Reviewed by Joe Regan Jr.
Jeff Blumenkrantz, a Tony nominee for his contributions to “Urban Cowboy,” and a part of “Murder For Two,” presented the world premiere of his song cycle “Month Upon A Time” at 54 Below February 12 to a full house. Blumenkrantz had four superb singers: Michael McElroy, Kanita Miller, Julia Murney and Kate Wetherhead. Blumenkrantz also had a great band: Tedd Firth on piano, Peter Donovan on bass and bass guitar, Bob Magnuson on reeds and flute, Peter Sachon on cello, Ray Marchica on drums and percussion. The orchestrations were by Josh Frelich. With one hour rehearsal they rocked.
After Blumenkrantz’s crazy self-depreciating opening number, “People Are Coming.” he told us that he had asked his Tweet friends to suggest numbers for each month of the year. The suggestions were shown on screens along with the month and song title. I’m not going to list every month, but the first one, “This Will Be The Year,” by Miller, was about a New Year’s resolution to diet. Wetherhead’s February song was “Double Whammy Birthday,” the hilarious lament of a girl whose birthday was Valentine’s Day and she was without a boyfriend for that sad day. When we got to June, Wetherhead sand “Drink My Way,” about being single at a friend’s wedding, and getting drunker and drunker in her loneliness and bitterness at the expenses she had put out for the shower, the bachelorette party, and the dreadful dress she had to purchase. One of Murney’s two great numbers was for August about the young musical comedy camp upon which the movie “Camp” was based. Both Blumenkrantz and Murney had attended the camp and the number was a beautiful song entitled “Pure Acceptance” about a girl’s feelings regarding her boyfriend going there and sharing the month with others like him, with a surprise serious twist at the end. Her October song, “Welcome To My Apartment,” which she’s done in other cabaret acts, has to do with voiceovers for a hard core pay cable channel and how each paid for furnishings in her apartment. McElroy, a stunning black man, sang “Fifth of November,” a song about Guy Fawkes Day, and the contemporary experiences of a black family in a white neighborhood in suburban Georgia. It was an angry and heart-breaking narrative and McElroy’s performance was shockingly effective. The entire cast sang the December song, “Christmas In New York,” about New York City at Holiday time, and this song deserves to become a Christmas standard.
Blumenkrantz sang two songs not from the cycle. “Valentine” – sad, about a former lover – tender and moving. “Two Cents’ closed the great evening with subliminal meaning.
Blumenkrantz, the cast, and the musicians got standing ovations. His infinite variety and wit demonstrate he is undoubtedly one of our best contemporary songwriters. He generously plugged Wetherhead who is starring in “The Other Josh Cohen” February 16 to March 16 at Paper Mill Playhouse after an acclaimed run at AMAS in New York last winter.
54 Below – 254 W 54th St, Cellar – New York, NY 10019 -(646) 476-3551