NY Music Review By Brian Scott Lipton
Even before the first notes sounded of “Randy Newman’s Faust: The Concert,” which was presented as a one-night event on July 1 as part of New York City Center’s “Off Center” series, the audience (which included fellow singer-songwriter legends Judy Collins and Jimmy Webb) was prepared for a devilishly good time. Because there was Newman – Grammy, Oscar, and Emmy winner – behind the piano in a cape and horns, all set to play Lucifer himself in his offbeat reworking of Goethe’s famous tale about the battle between God and the Devil for a man’s soul.
It’s true that even after 20 years and numerous rewrites, the show’s libretto remains slight and rather goofy. One doesn’t really care much if Lucifer returns to Heaven or about what happens to obnoxious twenty something Henry Faust (perfectly portrayed her by the great rock singer/theater star Tony Vincent). But as the two-hour concert proved, the wealth of great music to be found here makes this score one you want to listen to again and again, especially as performed by the gifted artists that director Thomas Kail assembled for this special staging.
Newman, his signature deadpan delivery intact, was delightful performing the Devil’s bluesy tunes including “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down,” “Never Been Good Enough,” and “Bleeding All Over the Place.” As the Lord, the silky smooth Isaiah Johnson (often backed by members of the Broadway Inspirational Voices) made the most of his numbers, including the gorgeous ballad “It Was Beautiful,” as well as such rousing, Gospel-inspired tunes as “Pass On Over” and “Glory Train.” The ever-wonderful Michael Cerveris didn’t have enough to do as Angel Rick, but he was a welcome presence, and delivered his one solo, “Little Island,” with great depth of feeling.
In addition to Vincent and Newman, the strongest impressions were left by the show’s two leading ladies. As good girl Margaret, who unfortunately falls for Henry, Broadway baby Laura Osnes shone brighter than ever, especially on the plaintive “Gainesville” and “Sandman’s Coming.” Meanwhile, the evening’s biggest ovations were awarded to pop star Vonda Shepard (best known for her stint on TV’s “Ally McBeal”) as Lucifer’s lover Martha. Whether belting out the joyous “Life Has Been Good to Me” (perhaps the show’s best known song) or duetting soulfully with Newman on the stirring “Feels Like Home,” Shepard gave the music her all.
If this show ever does get a remounting (which one can hope for), it might be not worth selling your soul to get a ticket, but shelling out the big bucks should hardly be out of the question.
Photos: Joan Marcus