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Travis Moser & Drew Wutke Sing Sondheim Simply


The pandemic, as we all know, was a tough time for cabaret singers. All the venues for live music were closed and singers, if they sang at all, were forced online to create content without the feedback of live audiences to help shape it. But as the old saying goes, when one door closes, another opens. The pandemic became a boom time for the few artists lucky enough to have home recording studios or connections to the handful of studios that could record safely. So much product was produced, in fact, that those of us who review such things are still catching up with some artist's pandemic projects.

Such a project is Travis Moser's EP, a collection of familiar Sondheim tunes entitled SO MANY PEOPLE: THE SONDHEIM SESSIONS. Moser, a full-throated musical theatre baritone, sings five songs mostly from the first half of Sondheim's career. He is joined by his longtime musical director Drew Wutke, who has created stripped-down piano-only versions of the songs. Recorded about 6 months into the pandemic, Moser has used his mini song cycle to react to the pandemic from his own point of view using Sondheim's words. The aim was to record the songs just as Sondheim wrote them, without new arrangements and without altering pronouns or genders. It is clear Travis Moser holds Sondheim in great regard and has presented his songs quite faithfully.BWW CD Review: TRAVIS MOSER & DREW WUTKE- SO MANY PEOPLE: THE SONDHEIM SESSIONS Succeeds on Its Own Terms

The short album is, for the most part, a great success and would be a good addition to the library of any Sondheim collector. And although Moser does not share what the story was that inspired this group of songs as commentary, there is a story there if you are looking for one.

Moser starts with Sondheim's paean to show business determination "Broadway Baby" from Follies. Sung in the midst of a pandemic with an unforeseeable end, there is a note of ironic desperation about it. He follows this with the haunting "What Can You Lose? " from Dick Tracy. He gives us one of the most beautiful moments from 1981's Merrily We Roll Along with "Good Thing Going." The highlight of the EP is a lesser performed Sondheim tune "So Many People" from Saturday Night. It is a lovely conditional love song in the Oscar Hammerstein tradition in which the melody goes in unexpected directions that nonetheless seem inevitable. Mr. Moser's voice is in fine form. He does on occasion tend to slightly oversing Sondheim's delicate lyrics. But his is clearly a voice that has been trained for legitimate singing.

The one track I would have a small quibble with is the last one, Sondheim's anthem to survival, "I'm Still Here" from Follies. I don't question the appropriateness of the song to the pandemic. In fact, it seems like the perfect song to sum up our feelings after months of quarantine. My problem with the song comes from Moser's youth. The song, at its most basic outlines the survival of a performer over decades of performing and re-inventing. Mr. Moser, although a delightful performer, is still too youthful to do justice to the breadth of the lyric about long-term perseverance.

But that's a small quibble, not a critique. On the whole, what Moser and Wutke have created here is very true to their aim of honoring Sondheim in the simplest way possible: by simply singing and playing what he wrote without undue embellishment. Although most of Sondheim's oeuvre was written beyond the years that would be considered part of The Great American Songbook, his songs are nonetheless American treasures. Kudos to Travis Moser and Drew Wutke for treating them as such.


SO MANY PEOPLE: THE SONDHEIM SESSIONS is available on Spotify, Apple Music, and all other streaming platforms. For more information on Travis Moser, visit Follow Drew Wutke @drewwutke on Instagram or @drewmw on Twitter.

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