by: Marilyn Lester
‘Making the Rounds with Russ’ – photos
Review by Marilyn Lester
Owls come in parliaments, lions in prides and rabbits in warrens, so might not a “harmony of music directors” apply to a collection of some of the most celebrated, talented and gifted MDs working in the business today. Over twenty of them congregated in the Metropolitan Room to be honored. Their directive was to do their own thing, whether playing, singing, speaking or simply basking in the glow of unabashed appreciation.
Many of the performing musical directors turned to comedy, suggesting that within a significant number of their rank there’s a comedian yearning to come out. Among the MDs who played and sang parody were David Alpher (with singer-wife Janie who wrote lyrics to “I Want To Be A TV Chef”), Jeffrey Klitz, Mark Janas, Michael McAssey, Nate Buccieri, Russ Kassoff, and Bill Zeffiro, with the queen of parody, the charming Marissa Mulder, singing “Universal Truth.” Comedic Blue Ribbon, though, goes to David Shenton who not only played the piano but the violin too – simultaneously – performing “All of Me” in several musical styles, with a head-spinning virtuosic conclusion that left the room in ecstatic uproar.
Virtuosity was also demonstrated by Yasukiho Fukuoka – known simply as “Yaz,” with a short and adept “Rhapsody in Blue;” and the insanely talented duo of Ian Herman and Sean Harkness, who on piano and guitar respectively, showed how those two instruments can pair for soaring, transporting music. The duo performed their own composition, which brought the house down. Also in the uber-talent category was Billy Stritch, the man who opened the Metropolitan Room in 2010, playing and singing “You’re Gonna Hear From Me,” dedicated to Marilyn Maye. Playing and singing wrapped up in one musical wunderkind also was wrought by Byron Sommers, Andy Kahan and David Lewis.
Two MDs played tunes from musicals they’re currently working on: Douglas Cohen played and sang a song from his “Mann… and Wife, and Ron Abel accompanied eponymous star Klea Blackhurst in a song from the Abel-Lissa Levin musical “Hazel,” which is making its way to the Great White Way. Jeff Cubetta and powerhouse singer Carolyn Montgomery Forant teamed for a double shot of musical elixir.
Some of the wizards of the music direction universe couldn’t attend, and were publically thanked by host and Metropolitan room owner, Bernie Furshpan; these were Peter Calo, Tex Arnold, Phil Chamlin, Paul Hinton, Ricky Ritzel, Steve Ross, and the sole female in this musical fraternity, Kathleen Landis. Tedd Firth stood for a bow, and among those who chose to speak a few words and also enjoy the evening as it unfolded were Barry Levitt, Don Rebic and David Budway.
Throughout the set, bassist Skip Ward and drummer Kenny Soule were on hand to play as needed, clearly enjoying the talent when at rest. As to that massed talent, these masters of playing, arranging, and accompanying individually and collectively demonstrated why the music director is the backbone of any given musical show, be it a cabaret act or an orchestral presentation. In their honor, Furshpan had several gifts to offer, including a beautiful pendant designed by artisan, Alice Fennell, who was on hand to join in the rousing applause given all of these remarkable talents.
Bravo Music Directors, Sunday, June 14, 6 pm
Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street, 212-206-0440, www.metropolitanroom.com