BWW Review: THE ANDERSON BROTHERS PLAY COLE PORTER at Birdland Theater
Birdland Theater, NYC, December 2nd, 2019
A lot of great things have been said about this jazz instrumental, identical-twin duo. Prepare yourself for more good things to be said. The twins took on Cole Porter this time for a fun show combining historic facts with both well and lesser known numbers from the "millionaire, Episcopalian, born in Peru, Indiana." The pointing out of this partial quote came as part of a joke on how Porter didn't exactly ingratiate himself with established names on Broadway, considering himself a musical genius. It's hard to disagree with him about the genius part, in retrospect, but there were also plenty of contemporaries. The Anderson Brothers created a unique atmosphere for their show by deviating between instrumental only music and songs performed alongside singer sensation, Yaala Ballin. The stylistic combination of this produced a fresh feeling for each coming song.
This effect was particularly noticeable on a pair of songs where a single Anderson brother remained on stage with just pianist, Jeb Patton. In the first of these, Peter Anderson traded saxophones solos with Patton. The second appeared later and consisted of Will Anderson pitting his clarinet skills up against Patton's in a wonderful duet of "What is This Thing Called Love." Neither of these had lyrics, and in many ways this crafted an intimate atmosphere as we watched each brother deliver passionate emotion through the instruments they wielded. They're truly exceptional artists with an instrument in their hands. Another particularly good instrumental song was "In the Still of the Night" from Rosalie. Neither of the brothers stuck to one instrument, as they applied their gifts across a variety of generally reed-based tools. Peter played the tenor and soprano saxophones as well as the aforementioned clarinet, and Will played the alto sax, clarinet, and additionally, the flute. There's something particularly mesmerizing about jazz flute.
Not to be forgotten, Ballin's presence added voice to many of Porter's more well known songs such as "I get a Kick Out of You" from Anything Goes. Without this, I'm sure the show would have felt a little more stiff as Will read factoids off to introduce each song. Instead, it was charming that he made sure to get things right (given that I've seen a handful of performers who clearly don't), and Ballin's ability to hold a note, plus her unique style of phrasing, crafted an additional feeling of evolution to the music. These subtle re-imaginatings of how the song would go never deviated wildly but felt almost Sinatra-esque. Nowhere was this more apparent than on two of her first songs with the brothers, "I've Got You Under My Skin," and "It's De-Lovely." She utilized a talent for using her voice, as well as strategic pauses, to twist the lyrics in a way that placed special emphasis on certain lines. In the first verse, for example, of "It's De-Lovely," she emphasized the first and last lines to make it drive home the point: "I've got the sudden urge to sing...so to spare you all the pain, I'll skip the darn thing and sing the refrain."
Of course, Ballin also sang a few more songs including "Every Time We Say Goodbye" and "Just One of those Things," each of which is among the most popular of Cole Porter's songs. These lovely performances expounded upon the wonderful aspects of this show. Ending on the iconic line, "It was great fun, but it was just one of those things," appeared to describe the Anderson Brothers' show. In addition to Jeb Patton on the piano, Neal Miner and Phil Stewart applied their skills on the double bass the drum set, respectively.