BWW Review: DIFFERENT PERSONALITIES (J. MARK MCVEY; ALEXIS COLE) FIND A HOME at Birdland
If you've ever seen Les Misérables somewhere, there's a reasonable chance that you have seen J Mark McVey ---he has played the lead role of Jean Valjean over 3000 times (on Broadway and elsewhere). So it's really not much of a surprise that a song from that score, "Bring Him Home," expertly shaded, would be the emotional highlight of his show at Birdland. He really got inside the song and can get inside a listener's heart. His act is a mixed bag of things, some more effective than others. His big voice and presence didn't always ideally suit the room, so it's not surprising to note that he has had a lot of experience in big concert halls with symphony orchestras. Many of those evenings had been with the late and much missed Marvin Hamlisch as conductor. A segment dedicated to that man's songs was the heart of this act. In this portion he was joined in song and overlong spoken commentaries by his wife Christy Tarr-McVey and Nina Hennessey, the latter of whom had been selected to be in a musical about Jean Seberg. It was great to hear her do one of its dramatic numbers in a committed performance. When husband and wife performed in duet they brought out the best in each other. On own, Mr. McVey seemed less often palpably connected to some material; it became more presentational. Accompanied by musical director Joseph Baker, there were times when a BIG ending for power was the option at the expense of the material. (Is belting the end of a gently flowing "Moon River" ever a good idea?)
The show began with some pop- rock as a throwback to his early days working in that genre. This might have been more effective as a change of pace later (which happened with the use of a Garth Brooks country song that was simple, sweet, and immensely impactful in an authentic way), as the rocker made for a surprising and atypical impression, even though, yes, the act's umbrella title is BROADWAY AND BEYOND. Getting beyond the "Beyond," let's look at his musical theatre selections. The musical Pippin's "Corner Of The Sky" works best as a young person's song, as it is a search for where one fits in, but it's a reasonable choice for an energizer. A show currently in the air and on the boards several blocks away, the revamped West Side Story was represented by two selections: "Something's Coming" captured some of its unrest; a bombastic, campy "I Feel Pretty," with prop mirror, was employed for comic effect in reference to an actor's' big ego. In a more serious mood, he talked about growing up down south, with loving parents who instilled values, getting folksy with his remarks (but too often starting off a slightly rambling spoken, borderline preachy set-up with "Ya know..." as if we were his eager confidants. Maybe he was just a bit over-eager to make the audience a buddy and came on rather strong and showy, when it was revealing his pensive, sensitive side through reflective songs that better reveal the big heart inside the big voice.
When singer/pianist/songwriter Alexis Cole is the attraction, it seems redundant to have a two-drink minimum or even have a bar because she has the most liquid, smoothest, most flowing voice imaginable. Long, luxurious legato lines are so smoothly connected with such sublime intonation that the sound seems to pour evenly and effortlessly. LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME: TIN PAN ALLEY TALKS TINDER is her latest set, bringing the modern age of dating head one with old classic songs' view of romance that could be, well, too romanticized....setting up expectations that are not often realistic. Exhibit A is a handful of classic standards ripe for jazz exploration in mostly slow tempi with plenty of time devoted to instrumentals from her own elegant piano work and the contributions by veteran bassist David Finck and drummer Kenny Hassler. She uses herself as Exhibit B, talking at amusing length about the trials of dating and mismatches, including men who are too possessive or demanding. She has a slinky sense about both her music and her patter, with tip-top timing in both areas.
Alexis Cole's checkered dating career results in both clouds and their silver linings---the latter is that a disappointing relationship and its end can end up as being no end of inspiration for original songs. Saying she wished the departing musician beau had written a song about her, she started collecting all those oldies with women's names in the lyric and created a "Blues For All Us" inspired by "Blues For Alice" by the jazz great Charlie "Bird" Parker, himself the inspiration for the name of the club we're in. Lyric reference to "Stella By Starlight," "Waltz for Debby," et. al. make for a smart lament. Her story about gushing to friends about a new relationship making her feel joyful --which all knew was not typical of her outlook and M.O.--- left her feeling awkward when it ended. The solution was to write what is a hilarious apology for her "Momentary Lapse Of Happiness." It's refreshing to witness a successful blend of LOL and classy, attractive jazz singing. Alexis Cole makes everything tasty and tasteful, laidback and hip. I may have to start a petition to tweak her name to make her Alexis Cool.
Website for Birdland-- www.birdlandjazz.com
Photo credit for Alexis Cole---Andrew Bogard