The thing that always strikes me about Euan Morton, from his New York debut in Taboo to his Obie-winning stint in Measure For Pleasure and various other plays, musicals, concerts and cabarets, is that the guy seems incapable of expressing a dishonest emotion. While some performers may dazzle you with their creativity or their exceptional craft, Morton draws you in with a comforting safety that makes artistry out of sincerity. He opens his four-week run at The Oak Room (through March 29th), titled Here and Now, with Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley's "Pure Imagination," glowing with a naturally boyish earnestness and a gentle smile.
Accompanied by music director/pianist Bryan Reeder, bassist Calvin Crosby and percussionist Will Clark (all currently students at the Manhattan School of Music) the ballad-heavy evening, directed by Lee Armitage, gives traditional interpretations of theatre and popular standards (The Gershwins' "Someone To Watch Over Me," Charlie Chaplin/John Turner/Geoffrey Parsons' "Smile," Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah") sung in warm, full tones, thick with emotion and intelligent lyric interpretations.
After playing tribute to his Scottish roots with Robert Burns' "My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose" ("If you know it and you have a good Scottish accent you can sing along."), he blithely switches to the more lyrical romanticism of Noel Coward's "Matelot," written for his partner of 30 years, Graham Payn.
His dramatically committed take on Stephen Sondheim's "No One Is Alone" is just as breathtaking as his sweet rendering of Paul Williams' "Ordinary Fool." And he stirs just enough sexual longing into "You Got It" (Jeff Lynne/Roy Orbison/Tom Petty) to keep you on the edge.
In between numbers, Morton has a spontaneous, self-effacing rapport with the audience that gives the show a light, casual feel. This is a versatile performer who just keeps getting better every time I see him.
Once again the folks at Musicals Tonight! are doing what they do best; finding a mostly forgotten old Broadway musical with a legendary name (Roberta) featuring a classic song ("Smoke Gets In Your Eyes") written by a pair of musical theatre greats (Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach) and presenting it in a lively staged reading performed by a talented cast.
Roberta was a smash in 1933, running an impressive 295 performances and boasting a cast that included popular (and soon to be popular) performers like Bob Hope, Lyda Roberti (The Polish Bombshell!), Fay Templeton (in her final Broadway appearance), Tamara, George Murphy, Sydney Greenstreet and Ray Middleton (with Fred MacMurray in the chorus). Its oddball plot is of an American college football star who inherits his aunt's dress salon in Paris (The House of Roberta) and falls in love with the Russian princess, displaced by the revolution, who assists in running the establishment.
Heath Calvert and Marni Raab make for an appealing romantic pair as the half-back and the princess. She gives a lovely, soft solo of "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," which is reprised in French by the also lovely-voiced Elena Mindlina. Jacelyn Huberman is over-the-top hilarious as the design house's most demanding customer, the thickly accented Madame Scharwenka (the role originated by Lyda Roberti) stopping the proceedings cold with her comic vamping of the specialty number, "I'll Be Hard To Handle" (lyric by Bernard Dougall). In the role originated by Bob Hope, James Donegan handle's bookwriter Harbach's parade of wisecracks, both funny ("Long dresses don't bother me. I have a good memory.") and not so funny ("Love is like hash. You have to have confidence in it to enjoy it.") with skillful timing and sings the classic "Lovely To Look At" (written for the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers/Irene Dunne film version; lyric by Dorothy Fields) with an attractively tender voice. He also leads an amusing second act number, "Don't Ask Me Not To Sing," where chorus members impersonate stars of the era like Al Jolson, Bing Crosby and Greta Garbo. Donegan caps it off with a big, belty Ethel Merman.
Producer Mel Miller gets his usual fine work from director/choreographer Thomas Sabella-Mills and music director/vocal arranger/pianist James Stenborg, both long-time veterans of the 10-year-old Obie-winning company.
Posted on March 09, 2008 - by
About the Author: After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Citi Field pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.