Rachel York and Brent Barrett Bring Spark and Sizzle to ISN'T IT ROMANTIC?
Music Director and Pianist, Eugene Gwozdz; One performance only on February 19 as part of Celebrity Concert Series at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston, Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Street, Waltham, MA; Series continues on April 22 with Mitzi Gaynor in “Razzle, Dazzle!” Box Office 781-891-5600 or www.reaglemusictheatre.org
“Heaven, I’m in heaven…” after spending two hours in the company of Broadway musical theater stars Rachel York and Brent Barrett performing their favorite love songs from stage and screen. If you didn’t get your fill of amore on Valentine’s Day, then Reagle Music Theatre in Waltham was the place to be on a sunny and mild Sunday afternoon to be wrapped in a musical embrace from these two accomplished songbirds.
On a simple set with Music Director Eugene Gwozdz at the piano, the only frills being a couple of vases of fresh flowers and the four dazzling, shape-hugging gowns worn by York, this show was all about the thrills and chills inherent in the songs written by a cavalcade of great (primarily) American composers. Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Alan Jay Lerner, Richard Rodgers, and the team of Kander and Ebb got the most play with three selections each, but you can’t cover Broadway without at least one choice from the catalogues of Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber (the token Brit). A dozen romantic tunes by Burt Bacharach were rolled into a nostalgic medley labeled “The Looks of Love,” and about half a dozen other tunesmiths were included on the playlist of familiar treasures.
The opening song by the duo was “Hooray for Love!” by Harold Arlen, making it crystal clear that the theme for the day was to celebrate love in its various forms. A highlight of the first act was Brent and Rachel pairing up for two from Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun. Their chemistry, born of knowing each other for more than twenty years, was apparent in “Old Fashioned Wedding” and “Anything You Can Do.” York took the spotlight for a gorgeous rendition of “My Funny Valentine” (Rodgers and Hart), one of my personal favorites from her debut solo album Let’s Fall in Love, and taking on the darker side of love, offered her own bittersweet and moving interpretation of Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns.” Substantially lightening the mood, she burst into the fast and funny “I Want You to Be” by Barbara Schottenfeld. Barrett closed out the first act with the oft-requested “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera. Having played the role for two years in the splashy Las Vegas production, he nailed the seductiveness of the Lloyd Webber song with his sweet, mellow tones.
Gwozdz had a solo moment in the limelight during the Piano Entr’Acte, tickling away on “Isn’t It Romantic,” the Rodgers and Hart tune that lends its name to the concert. An accomplished artist in his own right and one of Broadway’s top pianists, Gwozdz has worked with many stars of the Great White Way, including Audra McDonald, Patti LuPone, Chita Rivera, and Kristin Chenoweth, to name just a few. His two hands flying over the eighty-eight keys provided a range of beautiful notes to enhance York’s strong, clear soprano and Barrett’s rich, melodious tenor. In the second act, they each paid tribute to important influences in their musical lives. Barrett has recorded solo albums of songs by Alan Jay Lerner, as well as Kander and Ebb, and elected to perform “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” (My Fair Lady) by the former and “Sometimes a Day Goes By” (Woman of the Year), another favorite of mine, by the latter composing team. After explaining that Barbra Streisand was her first inspiration, York let us feel every thrill of new love in “He Touched Me” (Ira Levin/Milton Schafer, Drat! The Cat!), made into a hit by the diva on her 1965 album My Name is Barbra, Two.
Prior to the penultimate selection, a Kander and Ebb song immortalized by Liza Minnelli in Cabaret, York shared a funny story about working with Liza when the latter substituted for Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria on Broadway in 1997. York did masterful impressions of both Andrews and Minnelli, and then went on to sing an emotionally powerful version of “Maybe This Time.” Barrett joined her for a cute closing medley of “Isn’t It Romantic?/You’re the Top” (Rodgers and Hart/Cole Porter), showing again how natural they are together. For the de rigueur encore, they sang the emotional “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” (Michel Legrand and Alan and Marilyn Bergman) from the 1982 film Best Friends, and the Captain and Tennille 1975 cover “Love Will Keep Us Together” (Neil Sedaka/Howard Greenfield).
In an otherwise sublime program, I can’t figure out why they dug up that old chestnut which is not connected to stage, screen, or the Great American Songbook. Besides not being of the same caliber as the rest of the compositions, it was all wrong for Barrett’s voice. York handled it well enough, but it was far from the best note on which to end. However, it will not be the strongest memory that I take away from the performance either. I will remember the warmth and affection they showed each other and the audience, the comedic and dramatic skills they employed to convey the emotion in nearly two dozen classic songs, and the incredible vocal instruments that they possess. I only wish there had been more duets because separately, they are both shining stars; together, York and Barrett are a sparkling constellation.