by Adam Cohen
The best concerts at Feinstein’s/54 Below – like the best musicals – have an uncanny alchemic frisson. Punchy music, apt and wise lyrics, performers committed to fun, and that sense of discovering something bound to be amazing. This was absolutely the case Monday night for Nell Benjamin and Laurence O’Keefe’s I Remember It Differently.
Benjamin and O’Keefe are married composer/lyricists. They held court with a great assembly of top-notch talent performing numbers from the spectrum of their work…both together and with other collaborators. There were numbers from a new production (Huzzah!), new selections for Bat Boy and Heathers and Benjamin’s musicals with Tom Kitt Dave and Duncan Sheik Where Have you Gone Winn-Dixie. And for good measure selections from Legally Blonde and Mean Girls.
These compositions show the full range, wit, and fun of these fertile minds. Bonus – they were all spectacularly sung. Jealous yet? It’s safe to say Benjamin with Tina Fey and Jeff Richmond and O’Keefe with Kevin Murphy have cornered the market musicals about high school students, popularity and revenge. Mean Girls anthemic “I’d Rather Be Me” got my daughter through seventh grade angst (sadly, it wasn’t performed). So it was heart-warming to hear additional selections from Heathers and Mean Girls.
Kristolyn Lloyd (Dear Evan Hansen) held center stage for a fresh cut from Heathers called “Never Shut Up Again.” Someone please cast her in another musical. Additionally, Kate Rockwell powerfully sang “I Say No” (also from Heathers) and Brooke Quintana and Nicole Visco did a lovely rendition of “”One By
One” If you want to relive the high school experience, there may be no finer shows to do that than Heathers or Mean Girls and the new songs clearly illustrate the pangs of fitting, empathy, and finding relationships that matter.
The evening opened with a fresh number from Bat Boy the ripped from the tabloids headlines musical concerning a half bat, half boy attempting to integrate with society. “Here is Here” is a fine choral number deftly rendered by Dave Thomas Brown.
In addition, Mo Rocca (CBS Sunday Morning) offered a romantic paen as the faux president in Dave. And Ms. Rockwell was joined by George Abud and Jared Bradshaw for the very cute “A Little Too Late.” They have a lovely chemistry worthy of a full showcase. These songs were a tempting appertif to the full show.
Now, the main event, was clearly Huzzah! And based on the songs presented it hopefully won’t belong before a full production is gifted to audiences far and wide. This bright original show concerns a renaissance fair run by a family. The fair is down on its luck but populated with pirates, knights, and maidens fighting to keep it running whilst falling in love. The audience was treated to the knight’s song boisterously sung with appropriate swagger by James Snyder (Harry Potter). Equally fun were the other numbers “Miladies” featuring Imari Hardon, Nicole Visco and Ms. Benjamin and a humble cute number “The Stowaway” with Rachel Flynn and Jacob Rienstra. And the love song “Howl at the Moon” featured James Snyder and Nicole Visco. These songs were all wonderful, well performed and captivating.
The night wound down with a selection from Winn Dixie offered by Paul Lincoln and Susan Derry. And wrapped up with Brooke Quintana, Nicole Visco, and Imari Hardon’s powerful take on “I See Stars” from Mean Girls.
The evening was a worthy showcase of talent. The singers were ably backed by musical director/pianist Ben Green, Steve Lyon (reeds), Greg Joseph (drums), Hidayat Honari (guitar), bassist Matt Rubano and trumpeter John Dent.
The power of O’Keefe/Benjamin songs is the urbane honesty, witty irreverence and purely realized emotion from fully realized characters singing their hearts out. This evening was a gift.