BWW Review: Robert Cuccioli and Jill Paice Star in Gerard Alessandrini's ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN IN THE THEATER: THE SONGS OF MAURY YESTON
It was thirty-five years ago when Forbidden Broadway's genius creator/lyricist Gerard Alessandrini first collaborated, so to speak, with Tony-winning composer/lyricist Maury Yeston. That's when he spoofed New York theatre's then obsession with religion-themed played by twisting the lyric of NINE's "Be Italian" to "Be a Catholic."
Yeston's hits GRAND HOTEL and TITANIC followed and Alessandrini responded with his hilarious commentaries "Grim Hotel" and "Ship of Air."
But he's playing it straight this time, with a charming new revue titled ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN IN THE THEATRE: THE SONGS OF Maury Yeston.
If you're scratching your head trying to remember which Yeston musical that title song comes from, stop. The bouncy and funny opening number was penned specifically for this production.
And while there's no short supply of familiar songs from Yeston's Broadway hits (Not to mention his Off-Broadway DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY and yet-to-be-seen-in-New York PHANTOM), the evening also features a good number of terrific, unfamiliar selections from lesser-known projects.
The cast is headed by two top-shelf musical theatre performers. Robert Cuccioli, with an aggressively powerful baritone and incisive lyric interpretation skills, does a magnificent job with the soaring ballad, "Love Can't Happen." In a quieter moment, his touching performance of "New Words" conveys the wonder of a father teaching his child about the world. In keeping with the director's aim to create new contexts for the more familiar material, there's a slight lyric change made to "Guido's Song," making the solo more about an actor juggling career choices, and Cuccioli delivers delightfully conflicted quirkiness.
The talents of shimmering soprano Jill Paice are also properly showcased, first with a perky combination of "Shimmy" and "Hollywood" and then with a passionate rendering of "A Call From The Vatican," the NINE showstopper that usually features a dancer's erotic undulations. In this staging, however, Paice is holding a phone receiver, acting as an everyday woman seducing her lover via technology. The realistic context gives the number a more relatable sexiness. Her appearance is climaxed by an entrancing "Unusual Way," the torch song that exemplified the phrase "It's complicated" before social media popularized it.
Michael Maliakel displays a great deal of stage charisma to match his attractive light baritone, with solos ranging from a bluesy "Mississippi Moon," to the sincere ballad, "I Had A Dream About You."
Tenor Justin Keyes exudes great energy as a double-entendre spewing chef in "Salt 'N' Pepper," and gives a fine dramatic turn with "I Stand Alone" from GOYA: A LIFE IN SONG, Yeston's tribute to the great Spanish painter.
Rising cabaret performer Alex Getlin stands out with two contrasting songs of romantic longings, the country pop styled "Danglin'" and the intense, Latin-rhythmed "Strange."
While the revue consists primarily of solos, there's a thrilling choral centerpiece when the company combines for NINE's "The Bells of St. Sebastian," a song hinting at the darker side of the central character's religious upbringing.
With music director Greg Jarrett placed upstage at piano, Alessandrini's uncomplicated staging focuses on the material and on suggesting relationships that take us from one song to the next.
When you write songs for specific characters and storylines, the chances to score a popular hit decrease greatly, but the artistry and craft of writers like Maury Yeston is what makes musical theatre such an exciting and vital art form. ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN IN THE THEATRE: THE SONGS OF Maury Yeston is a beautifully sung and acted showcase of exemplary theatre songs.