By JK Clarke
Upon introducing their evening of songs Tuesday night at Pangea, Barbara Bleier and Austin Pendleton explained they called the performance—which played every Tuesday night in January—“Bits and Pieces,” because they felt there was no central theme to the collection of classic and lesser known numbers by a eclectic grouping of Great American songwriters. But, as the night progressed it became evident there was indeed a theme, a very serious and beautiful theme, such that the night should perhaps have instead been called “Bits and Pieces of Broken Hearts.” But, lest that sound too grim, rest assured that it was a joyous night of nostalgia and remembrances.
Early in the set, that featured classics by the likes of such Broadway luminaries as Lerner & Loewe (“I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”) and Rodgers & Hammerstein (“If I Loved You”), the duo detoured into early 70s radio pop/rock with the emotive “Taxi Song” by the great, and increasingly resurgent Harry Chapin. A wistful, heartbreaking story of former lovers who meet as hack and fare in a San Francisco taxicab and don’t have a romantic reunion: “And she said we must get together/ But I knew it’d never be arranged;” the song is both painful and lovely, but very real. It set the tone for the night.
The evening featured absolutely perfect music direction and piano accompaniment by Paul Greenwood, and was beautifully directed by Barbara Maier Gustern, who was introduced as “the best damn vocal coach in the world,” and we got to hear that sonorous voice on Maltby & Shire’s melodic “Autumn,” which also reached into the pain of past relationships. As did Maltby & Shire’s “There,” a clever number full of word play, telling the story of a couple in a passively antagonistic relationship. “There” was sung as a duet between Ms. Bleier and very special guest and the co-writer of that song (and three others in the show), the esteemed Richard Maltby Jr., who just that day had been announced as the 2020 recipient of the Bistro Award’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
As the program drew to a close, Pendleton sang in “Old Love” (A. McBroom & M. Boormann), that “some things the heart can’t forget,” with the emotion of one who has experienced every word of those lyrics. He infused an already meaningful song with even more feeling and depth than we are accustomed to hearing. So, by the time he and Bleier were into the second or third chorus of Leonard Cohen’s beloved “Hallelujah,” the house, filled with well-known names and faces from the cabaret world, gracefully glided in behind them without any prompting, singing with a quiet joy this song celebrating life, which is what the whole night was all about.
The show closed with Sondheim’s upbeat, yet still nostalgic, “Our Time” from Company, a musical whose reverse structure emphasizes a celebration and look back at life’s meaningful events. Like in their terrific 2016 Pangea show “Old Friends,” Bleier and Pendleton are like hosts of a party who take over the piano at the end of the night to thank their friends for coming with a set of meaningful, heartfelt songs that are a pure delight.
Bits and Pieces was performed Tuesdays in January 2020 at Pangea (178 Second Avenue between East 11th and 12th Streets). www.pangeanyc.com
Photos: JK Clarke