NY Music-Cabaret Review by Joe Regan Jr.
UnsungMusicalsCo. Inc. presented at 54 Below on August 5th, a program entitled “Unsung Bob Merrill,” created and directed by Ben West and hosted and narrated by Broadway star Marc Kudisch with a plethora of contemporary musical stars Anastasia Barzee, John Bolton, Erin Davie, Bradley Dean, Rebecca Faulkenberry, Nick Gaswirth, Karen Mason, and Christine Pedi supported by the Henry Levan Band (Philip Coiro, Fran Minarik, Peter Weitzner, with musical direction and arrangements by Minarik). At this time, I must state I knew Bob Merrill very well in the Sixties, often typed his lyrics for “Funny Girl” and other Jule Styne collaborations, and was thrilled when, in the dark, we heard Bob’s own voice singing without accompaniment “Love Makes the World Go Round” from “Carnival.” It was immediately followed by Faulkenberry rocking the Teresa Brewer hit “Sweet Old Fashioned Girl.”
What followed were superior performances by everyone punctuated by Kudisch reciting biographical facts and describing how fast Merrill wrote lyrics often on short notice. There was detail about Merrill’s extraordinary contract with Metro Goldwyn Mayor and how he retained the rights to songs he wrote for them but they didn’t use. One of the songs written for MGM’s musical version of “Anna Christie” was “It’s Good To Be Alive,” which Mason sang with unfamiliar verses and choruses and actually danced with Kudisch, breaking up on a couple of the lyrics. Four songs from “A Saint She Ain’t,” were sung in succession, one outstanding one Bradley Dean’s “Holy Smoke,” a song written for the sailor Matt which melded into Dean’s duet with Faulkenberry on “So Close To Paradise,” a tender ballad.
When George Abbott and Bob Fosse changed the period and created “New Girl In Town,” Abbott demanded a barbershop harmony number and Merrill wrote “Sunshine Girl” in a cab on his way to Abbott’s apartment. It was sung with great vigor by Nick Gaswirth. To demonstrate Merrill’s pop song repertoire, Barzee belted out Rosemary Clooney’s “I Wantcha Around” and Bolton gently sang a ballad version of “Parade of Broken Hearts” and then rocked on the second chorus. Davie did three trunk songs from “Carnival”- – “Fairyland,” “Magic Magic” and a long version of “Beautiful Candy,” soaring on her high notes. Kudisch himself did a great cut ballad, “Looking For Myself” and Davie returned with a long version of “Yes, My Heart.”
Kudisch told us how uneasy George Roy Hill was sitting next to Merrill at the opening night of “Funny Girl” and never expected Merrill to whisper to him he wanted to make a musical of “The World of Henry Orient.” It wasn’t a hit, but Pedi, in her own glorious voice, sang “Henry. Sweet Henry.” Gaswirth did a heartbreaking medley of three cut “Henry” songs: “Somebody Someplace,” “You Might Get To Like Me,” and “Some Little World,” all gems. Pedi returned with a complete version of “Promise Me A Rose,” from “Take Me Along” which was brilliant.
Kudisch related all the problems with “Holly Golightly”/”Breakfast at Tiffany’s” before Davie stunningly sang verses and bridges I never heard before, “Breakfast at Tiffany‘s“ (and I’d seen it in Philadelphia and at the disastrous last preview in New York). There was a reading of Mary Tyler Moore’s traumas during the tryouts before Barzee did a exciting “Same Mistakes” from that flop.
A real treat was the recording of Merrill singing “An Older Woman,” a song written for a musical of “The Graduate.” More flops, before Mason returned to rock “Mambo Italiano,” another Clooney hit. An audio of Suzanne Merrill reading a letter that Merrill’s mother never mailed written by the 13 year old Merrill, was endearing and led into Kudisch singing a full out “Love Makes the World Go Round,” and bringing the entire cast on for what was a magnificent evening. Bravos to everyone involved.
*Photos: Maryann Lopinto