Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors
Some may scoff, but I can get weepy at the start of a vamp and cannot resist a good wrist-slasher song marathon with six distinctive performers from the theater and pop worlds. A like-minded audience braved a low-record freeze and icy streets to be warmed up by Cry! A Sad Song Marathon, Scott Siegel’s production of weepers at Feinsteins/54Below.
Creator/writer/director and host Siegel’s wry humor and sharp observations introduced an eclectic lineup of 14 numbers, some golden-oldies or You Tube favorites, some melancholy and others were over-the-top sob songs. It was Brian Charles Rooney (The Threepenny Opera) who opened with the granddaddy of sad songs, “Cry,” introduced by Johnny Ray in 1951, the “The Prince of Wails” who inspired a rock ‘n’ roll generation of melodramatic sobs and exaggerated gyrations. Rooney did not go the full Johnny Ray route but indicated the style that inspired Elvis Presley and others. Later in the show, Rooney, a skilled tenor and actor, turned to theater’s Les Misérables to express pain and regret with “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”
Morgan Weed (The Greatest Showman) brought her versatile acting and tremolo to the country sound of Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” and Tom Waits’ “San Diego Serenade.” Changing to a pop sound, Weed was persuasively vulnerable in “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” (Grease).
Of course, there are toxic relationships, tailor-made for the power voice of Emma Hunton (Spring Awakening) who came on strong with “Come Pick Me Up.” Her high-octane volume was less effective with the melancholy “Manhattan” by Sara Bareilles.
Sometimes there’s a relationship that is just one-sided. (“So sad.”) Jillian Louis (It Shoulda Been You) took a 1970 hit by Linda Ronstadt, “Long Long Time,” gradually picking up the pace, volume and emotion with stellar supported by pianist Ross Patterson. Louis found the poetic poignancy in “Angel in Montgomery” but her diction was often blurry. Many Italian and French pop songs are distinguished by their heightened emotion and Louis performed “I, Who Have Nothing” (“Uno Dei Tanti”), written by Donida and Rapetti with English lyrics by Leiber and Stoller. Louis sang the English version but this song has been translated in languages around the world and was a ’60’s hit here for Ben E. King. Still, for singers who can master the languages, there is a strong case for singing some of these pop songs in their original languages when their meaning comes across stronger.
Tiffany Tatreau (Ride the Cyclone) delivered Eric Carmen’s 1975 “All By Myself, ” a song with simple lyrics but a compelling melodic verse based on the second movement of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Opus 18.” She also expressed a life lived with a fading love, “Out of Love.”
Farah Alvin (It Shoulda Been You) demonstrated why she is a staple in Scott Siegel productions and the theater stage. She connects with the audience, her diction is sharp, her voice is versatile and most important, she understands and delves into the song and its emotion. She proved all this first with Neil Sedaka’s/Phil Cody’s “Solitaire” about love lost through a man’s indifference. Alvin’s closing number, “Cry Me a River” from 1953, stands out as well, proving Alvin’s keen connection with the song’s romance and bitter determination.Vienna
Noted Siegel, “One of the loneliest pop songs ever written” is Noel Coward’s “If Love Were All,” a deliverance of alienation performed by Vienne Cox (An American in Paris). Cox refers to a word in the song, “diseuse,” which she uses to describe herself, singing/reciting the art song. With articulate sensitivity, Cox painted a picture of Coward’s loneliness and yearning for love, without the non-essentials, just compact and substantial. A standout in the show.
With Ross Patterson at the piano, every singer was beautifully supported but not overwhelmed. The show was a brew of eras and styles but was everyone’s favorite weeper included? Of course not. Obviously, we need a Part II, even Part III in this series. As Victor Hugo wrote, “Those who do not weep do not see.”
January 5, 2018