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Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Sing for Your Supper

From the Vault Dept.: I used to cover a much broader beat in my reviewing efforts, and for a while I hit all the theatrical performances I could get to in the Albany area. Here’s a vintage review of a show staged at the decades-old Schenectady Light Opera Company.


THERE’S A MIXED BLESSING in the “That’s Entertainment” approach in combining a string of related musical numbers into a standalone show. As demonstrated by the revue “Sing for Your Supper,” this format gives us several helpings of the songs of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, but they come without the careful pacing of the shows for which they were written.

Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart
The revue itself must provide an appropriate pace and dramatic structure, and a lot of responsibility is placed upon the performers to keep this nonstop barrage of lyrical brilliance from becoming too numbing or repetitious.

In the Schenectady Light Opera Company’s production, which opened last weekend at the company’s opera house, the cast of eight does a commendable job of selling most of the songs one by one; what’s especially needed is a good yank on the drawstrings to pull the show together into a cohesive whole.

Yesterday’s matinee, the third performance, might have been suffering from the energy slump that tends to hit any show shortly after its opening, so what you’ll see next weekend may well display none of the things that bothered me. Still, there are some points worth examining about this style of show.

Good revues have been deftly woven from songs by such writers as Cole Porter, Noël Coward, and the Gershwins. Two things help: the superior quality of the songs themselves, and the appeal of a sense of antique sophistication with which we tend to dress the decades between the two World Wars.

“Sing for Your Supper” is placed in a ritzy-looking lobby, a set brilliantly designed and executed by Duncan Morrison, all gold and brown and burgundy with revolving door, lots of stairs and even a big red ottoman.

The cast wore tuxes and gowns and affected airs of languorous finesse as they handled an astonishing 62 songs in various solo and ensemble combinations. With material ranging from the sublimely perfect (“I Could Write a Book,” “Where or When”) to the ho-hum (“You’re Nearer”), to the savagely funny (“He and She”) there was room for a lot of stylistic contrast.

Interpretively, ballads fared better than up-tempo material as the singers took time to shape the phrases. Some of the notable numbers included Kate Kaufman’s “Ten Cents a Dance,” Joan Horgan singing all the dirty lyrics to “Bewitched,” and Mark Burgasser giving full voice to “With a Song in My Heart.”

Musically, the slower songs asked for more consistency in vocal styling – vibratos and tone quality needed matching, for instance.

Nobody turned a comic rhyme as adroitly as Hart, and to make them work correctly requires a sense of timing that doesn’t get notated. Although Horgan has an appealing, Joyce Grenfell-like presence, she could have wrenched many more laughs from “To Keep My Love Alive” had she given more work to pointing the lyrics.

Lyrics are tough on trained singers, who too often are taught to damn the consonants – full speed ahead. I would have traded a dozen bars of full-note-value singing for a more confident sense that these magical phrases were alive in each performer’s mind as the songs were sung.

The singers often were presented in pairs, cocktail party-like, which enhanced the casual atmosphere and, of course, underscored the many lyrics of domestic entanglement. Rounding out the talented cast were Suzane Talarico, Michelle Sausa-Gatta, William Bayba, Jim Fraser and Thomas Heckert.

Director Ted Rucinski and choreographer Lesa Hayward moved the cast smoothly in and around the many playing areas of the set. Both of those functions are easily underrated in considering a revue because they have to look so transparent; here they deserve a salute.

Musical director Carolyn Williams was pianist, joined by percussionist Don Bush and Tony Riccobono playing bass. The musical sound was smaller than a show of this size and ambition can use, in part because the piano arrangements had the four-square feel of what’s published for mainstream use. The devisers of this show should consider lightening it up with new charts.

Where they succeed well is in keeping gab at a minimum and allowing the songs to flow. Rodgers and Hart changed the way we think about popular songs by writing them smarter than ever had been done before, and “Sing for Your Supper” offers impressive testimony to how deeply those songs have penetrated the American consciousness.

“Sing for Your Supper,” music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart; concept by Richard Lewine and John Fearnley. Produced by Thelma Zeh; directed by Ted Rucinski; musical direction by Carolyn Williams; choreography by Lesa Hayward; set design by Duncan Morrison; costumes by Steve Kilgore. At the Schenectady Light Opera House, Oct. 26-28, 1990.

– Schenectady Daily Gazette, 22 October 1990

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