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BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

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A composer-centric concert shines brightly on all the talent involved.

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

What do you do when you're a songwriter who doesn't get fame and acclaim? What do you when your life's work and personal passion are writing musicals but you don't get to be the next Jerry Herman, Stephen Schwartz, or Sarah Bareilles? What do you when you ask yourself, with some regularity, "Why am I not famous, yet?" Do you stop writing? Do you stop the inspiration from flowing without? Do you throw in the towel? Some do, but for Seth Bisen-Hersh, not writing songs is simply not possible, as evidenced by the wealth of musical material on display last night at Don't Tell Mama.

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons Celia Mei Rubin & FRIENDS SING Seth Bisen-Hersh was a one-off cabaret concert performance that filled Don't Tell Mama's Original Room to its full capacity of eighty people, and nobody in the audience worried from being crammed into a small indoor space with a bunch of strangers - in fact, quite the contrary. Everyone who entered the room, from audience to performers to waitstaff, were all so happy and relieved to finally be able to gather together in the acts of socializing and enjoying live theater that the atmosphere was palpable with the joyful energy of being alive and an active member of Manhattan nightlife once more. Gathering together to see a group of Broadway and Off-Broadway artists curated by Celia Mei Rubin seemed a perfect way to spend a Friday night, and the entertainment provided by the evening was, indeed, nearly perfect.

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons Musical director for the evening, Mr. Bisen-Hersh was able to provide accompaniment for the actors, as well as a running commentary for the music being presented, and who better to do that, since there are backstories and anecdotes that inform each of the compositions being performed? Of course, it isn't always necessary to hear the history of a song before hearing the song itself, especially in the case of Bisen-Hersh's compositions. A musical theater writer, Bisen-Hersh manages to create a clear story in each of his compositions, all of which are theatrical in nature and distinctly character-driven. From the insistent "Hypochondria" and "OCD" (both of which Bisen-Hersh performed himself) to Kimberly Marable's exuberantly presented "Saturday Night", Seth's versatility is showing, as he takes great care to expose the soft underbelly of the characters that he, so lovingly, creates. Even when the lyrics of "I Like Her" glare out at the audience as being repetitive, they are so on purpose, because that is the inner workings of the character on the stage. Mr. Bisen-Hersh has found a voice that is more accessible to audiences than some more famous composers that get overly complicated with their lyrics by placing his focus solely on emotion, be it his, the character's, the performer's, or ours. As a poet, he has a knack for looking inside of the human heart and putting what he sees there on paper; indeed, the heart to be found in his work is most easily compared to the work of the late Carol Hall, while his storytelling skills are very reminiscent of the songwriting team of Maltby and Shire, not bad company to be in, in the opinion of this writer.

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons For her part, Celia Mei Rubin did a splendid job of casting the evening, for each actor to appear gave a wonderful performance - not one of them did a bad job of conveying the story being told, and every one of them was in great voice, indicating that a year and a half of downtime has taken nothing from them, and they are all ready to go back to work. Each performer was given a chance to excel, and each one did, from Andrew Mayer, who sang Seth's oldest composition, the magnificent "What Am I Doing Here?" to Analise Scarpaci accompanying herself on guitar for a touching "My New York". Megan Sikora provided voice and comedy in "32 Bar Blues" before dueting with Millie Minnelli (as created by Leah Hofmann) on the crowd favorite "I Love Musicals". The highlights, though, were Celia herself, singing a custom-made "Could I Be In Love" and Erin Lamar, whose performance of "Um, Yeah..." captured everybody by the heartstrings and the funny bone. Lamar's number is from the sadly pandemic aborted musical LOVE QUIRKS, which Bisen-Hersh tearfully informed the crowd is in limbo but hoping for a comeback. The evening presented two other songs from the musical, the ambitious Lauren Testerman/Kimberly Immanuel duet "Darling, I Love You/Who Knows Why?" and the impressive "Waking" by Ms. Testerman, and if the three LOVE QUIRKS numbers are any indication, the play definitely needs to be saved from the list of pandemic losses. Mr. Bisen-Hersh clearly has something special here.

He also has an extreme case of charming, disarming, delightful logorrhea. This is where the show went from perfect to nearly perfect. As delightful as Seth's verbosity is, his unscripted prattle ate a lot of clock and the evening came in at an hour and a half, far too long for any cabaret show, especially when one folds in the factor that no show at Don't Tell Mama starts on time. It was nearly nine pm when the curtain came down on this seven pm show, and that's just excessive, and it could have been contained if Seth and the singers had all simply dialed back the rhetoric and let the songs speak for themselves, even if it would be more than easy to listen to Seth talk, all night long. But for that, a person can buy him a drink after the show and say "Ok, go" and sit back and revel in the magic of his individuality.

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

On the topic of sitting back and reveling in magic, it cannot go unmentioned that the evening's already first-rate entertainment was elevated by at least two points by Jessica Wang on Cello, Mark Verdino on Bass, and Josh Priest on Drums. When it comes to curating talent both Seth and Celia seem to have a particular know-how that might, one hopes, lead to further endeavors like this most enjoyable one from last night. One hopes.

Learn more about Seth Bisen-Hersh at his website HERE.

Learn more about Celia Mei Rubin at her website HERE.

Visit the Don't Tell Mama website HERE.

Celia Mei Rubin:

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

Kimberly Immanuel:

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

Analise Scarpaci:

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

Kimberly Marable:

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

Erin Lamar:

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

Andrew Mayer:

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

Lauren Testerman & Kimberly Immanuel:

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

Lauren Testerman:

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

Megan Sikora:

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

Megan Sikora and Millie Minnelli, as brought to life by Leah Hoffman:

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

Millie Minnelli and Leah Hoffman:

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

Celia Mei Rubin, Kimberly Marable, and Lauren Testerman:

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

Seth Bisen-Hersh:

BWW Review: CELIA MEI RUBIN & FRIENDS SING SETH BISEN-HERSH Packs Don't Tell Mama With Grateful Patrons

Photos by Stephen Mosher


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