by: Alix Cohen
To many of us, Mary Virginia Martin (1913-1990), will always be Peter Pan. Whether viewed onstage, in subsequent black and white television versions or its eventual color taping, Martin created such an indelible characterization in the musical that at the end of this evening, asked to sing “Never Neverland,” much of the audience had no need of provided lyrics. Her full career encompassed radio, nightclubs, television specials, 9 films, theatrical touring (notably Hello Dolly and Annie Get Your Gun), Broadway and The West End. Other originated roles include Nellie Forbush in South Pacific and Maria in The Sound of Music.
The thoroughly entertaining show mounted by Urban Stages on December 3 presented a wide array of well chosen material from Martin’s career. Bridged by historical and anecdotal narrative (which should’ve been tighter) by Host Stephen Cole and wonderfully nostalgic film clips (if too many), the evening also featured a charming, onstage interview with Peter Pan’s original Tiger Lily, Director, Sondra Lee. The artist spoke about having a “huge crush” on Cyril Richard, the genteel Martin’s keeping to herself, amicable overlap of two sets of songwriters and how lucky she feels to have been part of “a musical that has stayed with people for generations.”
Susan Winter shone brightly with songs from South Pacific and Girl Crazy. It was her intuitively phrased, unusually restrained version of “Before the Parade Passes By,” (Hello Dolly,) however, that rose above. The artist not only exhibited a warm, expressive, confident voice but knew that emphasis does not require volume or excessive gestures. Opening subdued and reflective, she gradually drew from an emotional well communicating the lyrics to much greater effect than legions who simply belt. Determination was palpable. A real storyteller.
Newcomer Liam Forde seems completely comfortable with the unusual maturity of his talent. The young vocalist sang “When I Went Home,” which was cut from Peter Pan because Martin found it too sad: The doors were barred/ And the window barred/And I knew with an awful dread/That somebody else/Some other boy/Was sleeping in my bed. A jewel of a performance, it could not have been more touching. Later, Forde did a duet with Cole- Forde as Mary Martin, Cole as Ethel Merman- after the single television special in which both ladies participated. Playing with vocals and bouncing off his partner, charm and professionalism were omnipresent. Stephen Cole, who can also sing, inflected his participation with amusing Mermanesque overtones.
Barbara Porteus’s “Cockeyed Optimist” embodied hope against the odds with less innocence than South Pacific’s heroine, but just as much validity. Her “What is a Woman?”(I Do! I Do!) took full advantage of the lady’s thoughtful seasoning (not age). Every word was believable and sympathetic. Julie Reyburn’s beautifully controlled soprano sighed into the infatuation of “That’s Him” (One Touch of Venus) but seemed uncomfortable with the simplicity of “My Favorite Things” (The Sound of Music). A mid song piano solo by Matthew Martin Ward soared with infectious ebullience.
Corrina Sowers-Adler, who, (surprise!) yodels like a pro, performed an absolutely terrific “Lonely Goatherd (The Sound of Music). Really, one wanted to polka. “My Cup Runneth Over” …with love (I Do! I Do!) was lush with feeling; its arrangement, lovely.
Marissa Mulder’s naturally breathy voice and “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” (Leave It to Me) would seem a perfect marriage. The artist was surprisingly less flirty than capabilities have previously showcased, however, perhaps because of the speed of this rendition. A duet of “Anything You Can Do” (Annie Get your Gun) with longtime accompanist Bill Zeffiro was jaunty. Janice Hall gave us two numbers from One Touch of Venus. Vocals, though skilled and focused, seemed melodramatic.
Piano arrangements and accompaniment by Matthew Martin Ward were symbiotic and deft.
All in all, the evening was a roaring success. Look for a more elaborate version of Cole’s enthusiastic research in April at The York Theater.
Check out the other entertaining programs of Winter Rhythms-Cabaret, Musical Theater and Jazz benefiting Arts & Education http://urbanstages.org/
A Centennial Celebration of Mary Martin
Host, Stephen Cole
Directed by Peter Napolitano
Musical Director Matthew Martin Ward
Technical Coordinator/Sound Designer Sean Hagerty
259 West 30th Street (bet 7th and 8th Avenues)
This is the opening of 2013 Winter Rhythms December 3-15
*Photos (except Mary Martin) by Jim Cohn