by Alix Cohen
First presented at Don’t Tell Mama in 1994, It Helps To Sing About It is a grab bag of more and less amusing songs by Ben Schaechter & Dan Kael, alumnus from The BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop who now pursue their careers on opposite coasts. Some of it is very young and cliché, some is extremely clever. Music and vocal arrangements are more successful than lyrics. Schaechter is also a fine pianist.
A group of talented, enthusiastic performers are ably directed, in all respects but one, by Sara Louise Lazarus. Most seemed aware of characterization, movements are visually appealing. Whether sound is up too high or vocalists unnecessarily belt, however, the result is that almost every number is appreciably too big for its sentiments.
When your figure’s getting roly-poly/And your job’s going nowhere slowly…(from the title song) sets the tone. Counter-intuitively, Schaechter’s Hallelujah Chorus arrangement works here with juxtaposition of wry lyrics and faux-serious attitude. Highlights:
Celia Berk makes a languid “Manhattan in July” sound like something out of an elegant, black and white, forties nightclub scene. It’s easy to imagine her in a gown standing by the baby grand in an Art Deco room. The song is thin, but pretty. Her version of the sarcastic
“I’ll Wait” lacks bite.
As rendered by Marissa Mulder, “Apply” is an absolute hoot: Slather on the sunscreen/Once a day at least/Your skin’s your biggest organ/So keep it- greased. The artist’s suggestive phrasing makes a good song better with perfect pauses and lidded eyes. Few others could get away with using the word “ta-tas” without sounding ridiculous. Innuendo is rife. Comedy is winning.
“He Knew How To Read Me”, sung by Kelli Rabke from atop the piano AS The New York Times is similar, playful, double entendre. He threw me on the carpet/And spread me on the floor…she effectively purrs. For my money, however, this artist’s best was “In Another Life,” a story-song delivered by a waitress longing to realize her dreams. Rabke gets at it from the inside out.
When Joshua Lance Dixon sings to “Doreen,” a server for whom he puts up with terrible food, he might be addressing the same waitress. A young leading man type, Dixon imbues the slight song with naïve hope. For me, his moment comes with “Time.” Deceptively simple, lyrics here belong to a child: Daddy doesn’t live here anymore…Yes and no make maybe…I can tell time…is poignant and utterly original. I want it to go on with the story.
“Show Folk” perhaps inspired by Merrily We Roll Along, lacks originality. Three songs from what I assume is a show called Pets, never realize their potential. “The Songs You Didn’t Hear” appears to be an unnecessary mash-up of less worthy ditties.
Nora Davis, also this evening’s producer, delivers “Forever”—referring to the pivotal choice of a couple’s sofa! with the deft, winking gravitas of an earnest ingénue. We believe every word, especially when the character gets apoplectic. A born musical theater actress.
The sweet, if predictable “My Apartment” is performed by David Perlman who seems unable to stop broadly smiling throughout the entire show, limiting lyric impact. Nor does Perlman give “Don’t Worry Bout Me”, his number as a Tom Cat, the Fosse slink and slither it deserves.
Photos courtesy of It Helps To sing About It
It Helps To Sing About It
Songs of Ben Schaechter (Music) & Dan Kael (Lyrics)
Directed by Sara Louise Lazarus
Ben Schaechter- Piano
The Metropolitan Room 34 West 22nd ST.
September 11, 1016 and September 17 at 9:30 pm
Venue Calendar: http://metropolitanroom.com/enhancedCalendar.cfm