SOUND OFF: BROADWAY BARES
FIRST LISTEN EXCLUSIVE: BROADWAY BARES OPENINGS BENEFIT CD
Today, we are taking a First Listen to the forthcoming collection of opening numbers from the many spectacular Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS benefits packaged together and titled in an expectedly suggestive and sexy manner - BROADWAY BARES OPENINGS. A cavalcade of dazzling casts, these tantalizing and titillating themes are led by the likes of Jane Krakowski, Sara Gettelfinger, Debbie Gravitte, Julia Murney, Shoshana Bean, Mary Birdsong, Heidi Blickenstaff, Tituss Burgess, Leslie Kritzer, Anika Larsen, Andrew Lippa, Euan Morton, Mo Rocca, Christopher Sieber, and Lillias White! Even with bottoms on display, this cast is tops!
Tickets To Writhe
BROADWAY BARES OPENINGS - Various Artists
Tom Viola and Jerry Mitchell are due much more praise and adulation for their efforts to the theatrical community through their fundraising events, such as Broadway Bares and the Easter Bonnet Competition, than I could ever offer in a mere column - or, for that matter, a series of columns - so, straight out of the gate, they must be acknowledged as the true pioneers behind this show and the organization and the very foundation of fundraising for what has become one of the most significant charities in AIDS research today. On Sunday, Tom Viola received a Tony Award for his contributions to the community (with the BC/EFA having previously been recognized by the Tony Awards) and the conversation we had about that momentous occasion is available at the link below, as are my chats with all of this year's Tony Award Special Honors recipients. But, back to front to BARES: there is nothing to have to bear here, for grins are positively contagious from the very first moments of this absolutely excellent and endlessly entertaining album of opening numbers from Broadway Bares benefits old and new. And what songwriting talent contributing their time and effort, too! Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman, Andrew Lippa, David Nehls, Gary Adler and Laura Kenyon, Jeff Bowen and more! In honor of the nature of the content of these songs, this review will be in an appropriate format: strips. I'll try not to expose too much!
David Nehls's opening number for this year's Broadway Bares STRIP-O-POLY is sung with passion and enthusiasm by Euan Morton who has been seen on Broadway far too little since his magnetic and unforgettable performance in TABOO in ‘03 but can currently be seen in SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM at Studio 54. The song is infectious and catchy, as are nearly every one of these sizzling selections. "The Best Game In Town" may very well be Broadway Bares, especially this season which lacked any song in any new score as good as this one.
"Click It With Me" is a walk through the Web with our tour guides being Heidi Blickenstaff and Mo Rocca. The HAIRSPRAY-esque, 60s vibe of this song actually brought to mind this year's Best Musical MEMPHIS a bit - a bit anachronistic as that may be - except the lyrics for this song are so witty and delivered at such a fast clip that you lose a lot of the inherent hilarity on the first - or five - listening which is surely not the case there. It's worth paying attention past the go-go psychedelica and out-of-this-world harmonizing to just dig those witty words. Dig in, indeed.
"Wonderland" is, frankly, one of the best rock theater songs I've had the pleasure to hear in a long, long time. It's everything so many rock show scores masquerade to be, the real thing - in its music, lyrics and, especially, its aesthetic. The ALICE IN WONDELAND allusions only abet the edginess of the entire enterprise. "Come inside my hole," and so forth, with Mary Birdsong on guest vocals. Above all else: Tituss Burgess is a fiery, ferocious force of nature and leaves us breathless in the wake of his performatively propulsive whirlwind energy. What power. Wowza.
"Nothin' Really Thrills Me Anymore" is a trip through history - or at least the more sudsy portions and Leslie Kritzer is convincing and convivial. While compared to some of the other numbers here it seems very mild and tame, though it is a pleasant enough respite from the rest of the pizzazz and showstoppers on display - it is performed with gusto and grace. While not thrilling, it's fulfilling.
"The New York Strip" is a showstopper amongst showstoppers - one of the three or four absolute know-down-drag-out-wake-me-in-the-morning-after-that songs on this stupendous album - with Sara Gettelfinger pouring every ounce of her considerable talents into putting it over. And it goes over the top and to the other side and ends up somewhere near disco heaven - especially that last note. Unbelievable!
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN is a new musical by Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman of HAIRSPRAY and it possesses one of the very best pop scores crafted for Broadway this century - if not ever. Shoshana Bean treats us to a sample of the score with what eventually became the Act Two opener of that strong show. She is sublime and hits notes I was not sure even existed. What a showcase for a vocalist, what a showpiece of a composition ("Son of A Preacher Man" is a breath away), and what a showstopper of a song. And now you can resuscitate it again and again as it's the first song from the show to be recorded and released before the show hits Broadway next year.
Cutting to something slightly more elegant and ethereal than any of the other entries, "Coming Attraction" is a homage to the old MGM musicals and that old showbiz razzmatazz we have come to expect from Broadway's best - whether entirely appropriate to the show or not. Surely, one thing that was not inappropriate - in a good way - on the night of the premiere of this song at that year's Bares benefit was the content of the song itself. Evoking Frank Loesser and even Jule Styne, the song is performed with attractive flair and suaveness by Christopher Sieber.
The cherry on top. "Burlesque Is Back" by Andrew Lippa and it is simply one of the best brassy Broadway bump and grinds since GYPSY. The bombshell blasting it into outer space - putting the broad in Broadway - is Jane Krakowski at the height of her abilities. No one does this kind of song quite like Jane and the joy and jubilation - and sexiness - of her vocal delivery is astonishing. This is Broadway at its best.
And if all that lofty praise weren't enough reason for this to warrant a listen: it's also an homage to "The Story of Lucy & Jessie" - itself an impossibly witty and erudite homage to Cole Porter by Stephen Sondheim - from FOLLIES.
"Comic Strip" is one of the best Andrew Lippa songs I've yet heard, and, while that may be faint praise, I have found that it is in devising these sorts of super specialty songs - such as those showcased on this album - that he shines brightest and best. "Comic Strip" has a quite fascinating concept, an exceptionally powerful performance by Julia Murney and a very solid and singular style - a bit of 70s rock, a bit of funk, some 60s rock, some 80s pop - all its own. I wish it were longer, as it seems to stop just when it is about to truly take-off and the general jest of it all is surely strong enough to support another verse or two, no? Julia Murney is instantly memorable and effortlessly amazing.
"Ride With Me" shows a completely different side of Lippa, a truly twenty-first-century styled song ala Kylie Minogue. The prerequisite catchy pop hook ingrains itself in your brain effectively enough, but the verses of Lippa songs always grab my ear more than the choruses and that is true here, too. The song truly builds to a cathartic and effective conclusion - where "Comic Strip" perhaps did not - and by the end has established itself as one of the standouts of this scintillating stack of standouts. Anika Larsen is pitch-perfect and makes a strong impression.
"Peep Show" comes at the perfect time in the proceedings and its bluesy and boozy leanings are quite becoming. Sounding like something from a 50s-era musical, the slinky section builds to a blazing conclusion in big-finish Broadway Bares style. Debbie Gravitte is grand with material like this and this song fits her like a glove that she promptly takes off. Titillating.
"The Barest Show On Earth" begins with a Kander & Ebb-esque vamp and the similarities to their sort of song is surely intended - and the result is something to appreciate and enjoy. The lyrics for this song are particularly riotously ribald and risqué. It's very "Razzle Dazzle"-ish and Andrew Lippa sings it with palpable relish and appreciable charm.
The album ends with the inimitable Lillias White singing "Grin and Bare It" - and what a way to go! Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman wrote the tune and it has all the expected accotrement of their excellence - with theit effortlessly witty way with a word in full bloom. White is white-hot and devours the song whole with blasts of bravado and a pinch of pathos. It's what we've come to expect from White. And she delivers. Boy, oh boy, does she deliver.
BROADWAY BARES OPENINGS puts the G-string in great. Get it.
Information on this year‘s STRIP-O-LOGY, how to purchase BROADWAY BARES OPENINGS and where to make a donation to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS are available here.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro