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Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below

A wonderful series at Feinstein's highlights new writers and new works.

Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below

There are many who think that Feinstein's/54 Below is that fancy supper club where you go to see big Broadway stars do their club acts a couple of times a year - and they would be right. But the basement nightclub that plays host to all the celebrities is so much more than the glitter of gilt walls and the sparkle of big stars. The nightclub dubbed Broadway's Living Room has a team of young producers creating shows that give cabaret debuts to up-and-comers, a team of booking managers looking for shows that go beyond the standard cabaret fare, and wonderful, important series that allow unknown artists to test the live performance waters and their as-yet-unheard compositions in front of a live audience. Even though there is much merit (and great entertainment) to be found in the seven pm shows headlined by Tony Award winners, these younger, edgier, more exploratory shows in the 9:45 slot are equally important and exciting with the promise of new things to come. (By the way, the 9:45 slot is being phased out and programmed as the 9:30 slot, which isn't as fun to say as "9:45 slot" but it does have the benefit of getting one home and to bed earlier).

The NEW WRITERS AT 54! series is one of the most fun shows in which to invest one's time because it is always rewarding to get in on the ground floor of something, to catch a work of art during its workshop stage, to see something that is in development and watch where it goes. There is also less pressure to dress up and less money to be spent at the 9:30 slot (I swear, I'll get used to that), smaller crowds (depending on the artist and the dedication of their friends and family), and a chance to kick back and enjoy being a little Bohemian while supporting a new voice in the arts.

Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below On May 11th the New Writers At 54! series presented budding musical theater writer Brandon Webster who, along with four (almost alarmingly) talented young singing actors presented a small sampling of his work. Indeed, at one point Mr. Webster announced, "Tonight's show is introducing Brandon Webster," and he wasn't wrong - at least not entirely. By simple virtue of the fact that he is a new writer, one might surmise that the audience was made up of people who either know him or who know his fellow acolytes of the Thespianic persuasion... and that he may not have expected that there might be the odd stranger, like this reporter, looking for a new artist to support. Nevertheless, Mr. Webster (a charmer, to be sure) did not scrimp on the presentation of his real self on the stage; neither did he hold back with the details of the compositions that he was presenting. Speaking extemporaneously, Brandon Webster was playful, informative, genuine, and honest (a running joke throughout the evening was the fact that a number of his musicals remain unfinished, even though the songs are good). The eight songs that he and his company of actors presented were all good songs, some even reaching the level of being labeled impressive. Beautiful of melody and possessing of interesting lyric structures, the stories that these eight songs told were absolutely present, never banal, and always easy to follow, which is important when it comes to listening to an entire evening of new songs. New material requires full attention, and open ears - it's not like a cabaret show where someone throws one or two new tunes in with a program of "Old Devil Moon" and "I'm Every Woman" - there is no sitting back and coasting: one must listen and pay attention. Mr. Webster's songs from his musicals HEADLINES, METROPOLIS, and KRONOS were all extremely easy on the ear and easy-to-follow storytelling - indeed, his spoken portions of the evening could get a little flowery and obtuse, making the man himself all the more enigmatic and interesting, but the songs were always crystal clear. And there was also that fact that a large part of the enjoyment factor to his show was brought, strongly, to the stage by his company of singing actors.

Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below

In order of appearance, Tayler Harris, Djore Nance, Alaina Newell, and Denise Manning were tasked with the roles from the Webster musicals, and all four actors brought their own individuality to their storytelling; nobody let down their composer or their audience. Using a combination of stage presence, acting skills, and great vocals (and a fair amount of chemistry, visible during their group numbers) the beautiful company of actors did Mr. Webster proud. As, performance after performance, these talented singers put on display the Brandon Webster songbook, one thing became patently clear: Brandon needs to finish these shows. The songs are filled with color and nuance, rich and replete with light and imagery, and remarkably theatrical - a good thing for a musical theater writer. This is true storytelling, and there is talent here, from Webster and from his cast, but since this is a show about a New Writer, the foundation of the show must be the writer - and Webster has it. He just needs to decide to use it, and to do it. Whether watching Harris perform a "This Old Shop" filled with visions created by meticulous sentence structures, or enjoying the theatricality in the group number "Headlines," there is clear promise in these new works upon which Webster is working. Ms. Newell's performance of the song "Tom Ford" provided a fascinating exploration of how lyrics can paint a picture but how the music and arrangements act as the frame and the lighting for that picture, and Mr. Nance's presentation of "Be Your Man" was like some wonderful marriage between musical theater and jazz. And even though Ms. Manning's participation seemed restricted to group numbers, there was no denying the star power that this actress with a voice has, as she led those group numbers into a frenzy of exciting entertainment. Factually speaking, all four of these singing actors are so powerful in their work and their talent that it would be a shame for them to continue, even another day, without starting work on their own club acts, acts for which this reporter will be, ardently, waiting.

Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below To sweeten the deal that was his first night at 54 Below, Mr. Webster even sang a song himself. Due to his use of the term "pinch-hit" one can only assume that another artist was scheduled to perform the song "Beautiful World" from KRONOS, but that Webster had to fill in on the tune that is, right now, radio-ready. The gentleman has a lovely singing voice and style, and acquitted himself, nicely, during the performance, but a recording of the lovely ballad by a famous singer would serve him and his work well - the song was an evening highlight. There is, though, one thing that Mr. Webster needs to watch out for if he intends to do more shows like this (and he should), a little piece of advice that this reporter and new fan would like to offer to him and his cast: lower your mic stands when you're not using them. The audience wants to see you, not the mic stands, and since they are downstage and you are not, leaving them up when they are not in use will cause some person in some chair in the audience to watch through an obstructed view. This is actually something that many onstage talents might consider keeping on the front burner of their mind when doing a show because there is audience everywhere in the room, and if one considers that, one will want every person to see their lovely face and lovely performance. Other than that minor quibble (and the length of the program, a sadly scant forty minutes) the New Writers at 54! show dedicated to the works of burgeoning songwriter Brandon Webster could not be labeled anything other than a resounding success. In fact, the program was so good that this reporter already has a reservation for the next New Writers installment on May 24th, and cannot, more enthusiastically, recommend that others check out NEW WRITERS AT 54!. If the Brandon Webster evening of the series is any indication, it's a program worth supporting.

The Brandon Webster New Writers band was extraordinary and, by name: bass player Parker McAlister and Musical Director/pianist Ike Webster.

Find great shows to see on the 54 Below website HERE.

Brandon Webster has a website HERE.

Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below
Tayler Harris

Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below

Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below

Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below
Brandon Webster

Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below

Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below

Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below
Djore Nance

Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below

Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below
Alaina Newell

Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below

Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below
Denise Manning

Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below

Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below

Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below

Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below

Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below

Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below

Review: NEW WRITERS AT 54! THE MUSIC AND LYRICS OF BRANDON WEBSTER Impresses at 54 Below Photos by Stephen Mosher


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