by Monica Charline Brown
Starting Here, Starting Now is running at the The York Theatre Company, playing ten performances only through this Sunday afternoon March 20. This material has not been performed in New York City since the seventies. Clearly, forty years have rendered the material timeless. The love songs, in all forms (amusing patter songs to emotional ballads), ring just as true today as forty years ago. The song cycle was originally produced in 1976 at the Manhattan Theatre Club cabaret’s space, dubbed “Theater Songs of Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire.” The prosperous, yet limited, engagement led to an expanded revue at the Barbarann Theater Restaurant (now Swing 46 Jazz and Supper Club), where the name of the show transitioned to Starting Here, Starting Now. Additionally, the song cycle earned a Grammy nomination for original cast recording. Since those initial charming productions, the show has gone on to become a staple for summer stock, amateur, and commercial houses across the world.
An installment of the Musicals in Mufti series, the company only rehearses for a week, totaling around thirty hours. The word “mufti” supposedly is an East Indian phrase used in wartime to mean “out of uniform.” The York has translated the term to street clothes for the theatre’s purposes. Relying on staged reading format, complete with script books and music stands on stage, Musicals in Mufti has produced notable musical theatre shows of the past for twenty years. Starting Here, Starting Now is the 103rd production in the Musicals in Mufti cannon.
The songs are just really splendid. It’s no surprise that Barbra Streisand recorded several songs from the revue on her album “Color Me Barbra.” Starting Here, Starting Now is a collection of story-focused songs from shows early on in the careers of Mr. Maltby and Mr. Shire. The song cycle has a fantastic flow; clearly the two writers assembled their unproduced material by theme. Luckily for the American musical theatre cannon, the team pursued writing book shows, where contributions have included Baby, Big, and Closer Than Ever.
The first act begins with soaring harmonies in “The Word is Love” and gradually gushes into the title song, “Starting Here, Starting Now.” The first act tends to focus on the highs and the lows of a romance circling the metropolitan lifestyle. Whether comical, exultant, despondent, or cross, the songs do a fine job of covering the emotions one feels in every stage of a burgeoning relationship. Act Two develops this theme further, concentrating on new beginnings. Although love lives may have gone awry in the past, these songs prosper hope for a fresh start.
Krystal Joy Brown, Charlotte Maltby, and Bobby Conte Thornton navigate this simultaneously intimate and confident revue. All three of them embrace the thrill of romantic possibility and successively experience the heartache of hurt by romance’s hand. The trio is versatile and full of life, eagerly and originally taking on the new character each song brings, all without losing their sense of individuality and self in the progression. They indulge in the mushiness of love without becoming maudlin. They have comedic timing way beyond their years. Most of all, they simply tell the story the song yearns to tell through the canvas that is uniquely their own. Furthermore, they perform it all with vocal sophistication, masterful dynamics, and technical prowess.
Krystal Joy Brown shines with her powerful belt voice, bright personality, and sassy mannerisms. Her standout performances include the well-known “Crossword Puzzle” and the pulsing “What About Today?” Charlotte Maltby’s lovely mixed soprano serves as a beautiful contrast to Brown, and her interpretations of “Autumn” and “Song of Me” are particularly noteworthy. Bobby Conte Thornton creates the picture-perfect partner for the two ladies and stands out with his discovery-filled fight of “I Don’t Remember Christmas” and his Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly reminiscent rendition of “Flair.”
It is a blessing to the New York theatre community that the York Theatre Company has been dedicated to unearthing these lost gems of musical theatre. Starting Here, Starting Now is a splendid addition and you would be truly missing an exquisite opportunity as a theatre-goer if you missed their run this week.
Starting Here, Starting Now at The York Theatre Company at Saint Peter’s (619 Lexington Avenue, Entrance on East 54th Street, just east of Lexington Avenue). Running through Sunday, March 20. Box office: (212) 935-5820 or www.yorktheatre.org.
Photos: Ben Strothmann