An Evening at the Carlyle: Make it Another Old Fashioned

By: Jul. 01, 2009
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Original revues can be terrific collections of a composer's work—for prime examples, see Jason Robert Brown's Songs for a New World, William Finn’s Elegies or Infinite Joy, or just about anything by Joe Iconis. Well-written songs can create a mood strong enough to sustain an audience's interest for several hours.

 But if the songs aren't strong enough, the whole thing falls apart. And that's the problem with Al Tapper's An Evening at the Carlyle: A New Musical Revue, now running at the Algonquin Theater. The show purports to represent a typical evening at Bemelman's Bar at the legendary Hotel Carlyle, where celebs can mingle with tourists and the cream of the cabaret crop perform. Regulars chat with seen-it-all bartender Tommy (played with gentle dignity by Dennis Holland), celebrities wander in and out and comment on their lives, and 24 songs manage to fit into 75 minutes.

 With no real plot to speak of, those songs need to carry the show, and sadly, they don't. With predictable, simple rhymes and frequently repeated lyrics, the songs don't surprise or intrigue, and don't reveal much about the characters singing them. Considering that most of the characters only appear for one number and then depart, it's almost impossible to care about their conflicts or concerns. The evening's best song, "When Nobody Else is Around," is one of the few genuinely dramatic moments in the show, and offers a tantalizing taste of what the revue could have been. Tapper even shamelessly steals a moment from his other musical at Algonquin, Sessions, for no particular reason other than watching the luminous Rachelle Rak dance up a storm (which, granted, is always a wonderful thing to see). A sample of the dialogue from the scene: “Hey, it’s Rachelle Rak from Sessions at the Algonquin Theater! Why don’t you sing us a song from the show?” I wish I were making this up.

 Amanda Gabbard, Michael F. McGuirk and Jason Rowland play 13 roles among them, some famous and some generic. (While some of the celebrity impersonations have their charm, most simply fall flat, and none feel necessary.) With six individual characters to represent (again, usually for just one song), Gabbard gets the most material to work with, and is at her best when playing a woman described simply as a “Carlyle Girl.” Kelli McGuire plays an increasingly inebriated Barfly who serves no real function other than to act drunk and belt impressively (both of which she does quite nicely, hinting at what she could do with stronger material).

 If any of the songs were as interesting as John McDermott’s impressively realistic set, the evening would be much stronger. If Tapper introduced some conflict and genuine drama into the slice of bar life, he could have a strong off-Broadway musical. Instead, An Evening at the Carlyle is too loosely connected to hold interest.  

 



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