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10.18.10 My Top Ten RIGHT NOW

On the art of joy and the joy of art, also known as the American Musical…

After last week’s decidedly dark entry on the world and the world of art, I felt it necessary to spend the week reconnecting with the unbridled joy that comes from artistic expression. More specifically the art of the musical.

This past week has been filled with cast recordings from recent Broadway sensations, always a source of happiness for me, especially when stuck in the apartment cooking and cleaning.  Despite my initial lack of love for the musical Memphis, I’ve been pleasantly surprised that the recording has brought new light to an actually worthy show even if it really just is one large placating Broadway showstopper aimed at the tourist set.  Without the bombast of the staging, stripped just to the songs, the show does actually shine.  I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed listening to the recording of Fela! The impressive essence capturing performance is completely transported through the recording, although at the end of the day, it really only made me go back to the original recordings of Fela Kuti, especially his hit political song “Zombie.”

The true highlight of the week was seeing Kander & Ebb’s new Broadway sensation The Scottsboro Boys.  This is 100 minutes of shocking and gorgeously directed commanding theater.  In the guise of a minstrel show, an impressive cast of unknowns brings to stunning life the injustice of the rape trial that sealed the fate of nine black men in Alabama.  Unlike the subtle subversive stylings of Cabaret and Chicago, in which numbers start nice and sweet and turn on a dime at the end, this show goes for the gut almost immediately.  In an effort to give nothing away, I will simply say that there is a tap number in the middle of the show that had my mouth dropping to the floor.  It is a truly beautiful thing to watch art speak so clearly and so powerfully on a subject with which this nation still hasn’t truly come to terms.

The week culminated in the oddly enjoyable taking in of the opening night of the New York Cabaret Festival at Town Hall entitled Broadway Melody Makers.  While the show lacked an truly cohesive order, other than to say that in the over 100 years of the great white way, some great people have written great melodies, clearly aimed at pleasing an older set with songs they actually know.  The real pleasure here was seeing the pop-recording and occasional stage star Nellie McKay prove that crazy is always a good approach to interpreting music.  She moved swiftly from a precious version of “What’ll I Do” to a playful uke version of “Don’t Fence Me In” capping off the evening with a Steve and Edie style delightful take on the Pal Joey classic, “I Could Write a Book.”  The girl knows how to interpret a tune making it fresh, unique and, well, odd.  The show also packed some excellent punches from Mary Testa, Judy Kaye, Gregg Edelmann and the incomparable Alice Ripley, taking on such a wide range of quality in tunes like Sondheim’s “Being Alive” from Company and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “As If We Never Said Goodbye.”

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