Fred Barton Presents, As Only Fred Barton Can: American Showstoppers:
An Evening With Frank Loesser
by Lisa Joy Reitman-Dobi
Dynamic, discerning, boyish and brilliant, Fred Barton is a prodigious conductor, lyricist, orchestrator, actor, arranger, pianist, producer and singer. If I were to write a character of such extraordinary dimension, I’d be advised to blue-pencil the poor thing down to someone with a “gift.” Of course I would shun such counsel: the gift is this virtuoso named Fred Barton.
A distinguishing quality among true virtuosi is their ability to transcend the role of performer and become an experience.
Nowhere is this more beautifully evidenced than in Barton’s concert series, American Showstoppers. Creator, arranger, conductor, orchestrator, producer and host, Barton revivifies the works of our most celebrated composers of stage and screen. Backed by a full orchestra, top Broadway actors sing and perform classic show tunes as they were meant to be seen and heard: rich, vital and multi-dimensional. Barton creates an extraordinary experience, a thrill with one insurmountable downside: it will spoil you for any other interpretations. This is a rather delightful problem.
American Showstoppers: An Evening With Frank Loesser opened with three selections from Guys and Dolls. John Bolton, Damon Kirsche and Michael Waters kicked off the evening with a spirited, pitch-perfect rendition of “Fugue for Tinhorns.” Everything was there: voice, choreography, fully-immersed characters from body language to facial expressions.
Christina Bianco joined Michaels and Walters in an exciting rendering of “Guys and Dolls.” This ensemble worked together with a contagious joy. Christina, exuding animated charm and a rocking stage presence, grabbed the willing audience, and her tremendous voice thrilled them.
This is what Loesser had in mind. These songs are meant to be performed and with gusto. And they were.
What Loesser could not have envisioned was Michael Walters’s outstanding performance of “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.” When a singer and actor knows the art and craft of comedy, you’ve hit the jackpot. Walters is a big man, one with an exceptionally nimble command of the stage.
Tall and chic, Christiane Noll sang “I Don’t Want To Walk Without You.” Her heavenly voice was at once soulful, formidable and blithely elegant. Her touching rendition restored depth and a fresh sweetness to these familiar lyrics.
John Preator took the stage and gave a heartfelt rendition of “Down the Stars and Out the Door.” Tall, with kind blue eyes, John’s quietly natural ease on the stage belies a striking voice with an outstanding dynamics.
When Karen Murphy sat on a stool and looked around the house, she had already begun that tender song from Red, Hot and Blue “(Where are you?) Now That I Need You.” Karen was every inch the stunned and bereft woman whose imploring words go unheard. It’s a heartbreaking song, one that takes remarkable personal investment to successfully convey such truth, such poignancy.
Jesse Luttrell’s superlative showmanship was demonstrated to perfection with “Slow Boat To China.” Jesse has an absolutely stellar voice, flawless moves, stunningly impossible long notes, and a range ‘that will knock your socks off.’ Jesse is a performer’s performer.
Toward the end of the second act, Fred Barton took the stage and sang an unequivocally hilarious number from Let’s Dance: “I Can’t Stop Talking About Her.” His rapid fire, oxygen-defying technique puts even the most loquacious, myopic teenage girl to shame. Both audience and singer had great fun!
American Showstoppers: An Evening With Frank Loesser was a magnificent tribute to one of our most illustrious composers. Wherever Frank may be, this concert certainly made him The Most Happy Fella.
Jo Loesser agrees. Frank’s widow was present at and utterly delighted by the show. When handed the microphone, she expressed her joy. Nowhere can there exist a review more articulate, more telling than Jo Loesser’s statement of how proud Frank would have been.
What a gift: Fred Barton.
American Showstoppers: An Evening With Frank Loesser was beautifully directed and choreographed Scott Thompson. The top-notch ensemble included Matt Bauman, Barrett Davis, Daniel Lynn Evans, Rashaan James, Jesse Lawyer, Cooper Taggard and Nic Thompson.
Fred Barton’s American Showstoppers appears regularly at The Michael Schimmel Center for the Performing Arts, courtesy of Pace University. The next concert is slated for Friday, March 10, 2017: American Showstoppers: An Evening With Kander & Ebb.
For more information visit schimmelcenter.org
Video: Michael Stever