Songs for the Season

Unique Musical Programs

Archive for the month “July, 2013”

Under My Skin

I’m delighted to observe that Chicago audiences seem, like me, to have the works of Cole Porter “Under their Skin”. My friend Colin Douglas wrote about Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre’s A Cole Porter Songbook that “this energetic young company gives audiences their money’s worth in every way. This show, this cast is, quite simply, the top!”

I plan to see this production in August now that it has been extended until September 1st. I’m excited to see a young, popular cabaret theater celebrate my favorite composer. Meanwhile I have been attending other Porter feasts: Joan Curto brought her Cole Porter: from Major to Minor to Davenports, and I checked it out. I was thrilled to hear her sing “Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love” from Leave It to Me. I played the comic lead in a revival of that show at Equity Library Theater in NYC. It has such a rich score and great character parts, the original starred Victor Moore and William Gaxton, Sophie Tucker and a very young Mary Martin.

Then last Wednesday I travelled to the Oil Lamp Theater in Glenview, IL to see The Many Loves of Cole Porter performed by Bob Moreen. Bob is a stalwart in Chicago Cabaret as a performer and music director. He guided the very successful Noel Coward show starring Suzanne Petri & Co. which I admired. His suave and intelligent interpretation of the Porter material was spot-on for those of us who like nothing more than to wax nostalgic about Cole’s love life (in song) and impish creativity. This show will repeat on September 18 and I recommend it.

So why do Cole Porter’s works have so much juice outside the theatre? There have been several successful revues, such as, Cole, A Musical Revue, and Red, Hot and Cole, and others like the above mentioned “Songbook”. One answer may be that Mr. Porter spent many years in a self-imposed exile from Broadway where he amused himself and his friends by singing solo party songs which he wrote for himself. He acquired a very sure sense of what his crowd expected from him and what would amuse them. He brought this well-honed sensibility to his book shows when he finally returned to the fold of Broadway theatre.

Another thought is that he had a wonderful satirical bent. Like the Gershwins he was influenced by Gilbert and Sullivan who brought satire into operetta for English and American audiences. He enjoyed poking fun at select targets in ways that were far more sophisticated than the low-brow humor prevalent in other musical entertainments. It seems to me that he was a great writer of comedy as well as romance.

I also think that Cole Porter’s songs stand on their own so well because he was one of a handful of composers who wrote their own lyrics. So he was collaborating (musically) with himself, which may have resulted in creations that were purer in intent and execution. And he was certainly prolific. If a book song didn’t work, he just wrote others until one did work. Tried and true.

And of course his songs were always theatrical. Even if they were written as specialties for himself or others they were theatre songs, because he was a troubadour, he lived to entertain.

For me, whether the weather is cold or whether the weather is hot, it’s always a season for Cole Porter.

What a Character!

July has been a busy month for Daniel. After a year residing in the Oak Park, IL arts district I moved to a larger apartment nearer downtown Oak Park. With this move I hope to put down some roots in Chicagoland while retaining my family home in SW Michigan as a “get-away.” It’s such a privilege to cultivate a town and country lifestyle!

Aside from getting resettled, I continue to enjoy the riches of what cabaret in Chicago has to offer. On July 20 I attended a special concert at the Katten-Landau Studio of the Auditorium Theatre. They presented “Life is a Cabaret” with Scott Gryder and Nick Sula (Phil Martin, on drums). I have been following Mr. Sula (as music director) and his partner Mr. Gryder ever since joining Chicago Cabaret Professionals. They were among the first performers I noted for special attention and I have seen them perform at several venues.

So when Scott announced the revival of last year’s tribute to the words and music of Kander and Ebb I knew that this event would be a must see! It proved to be (so far) a high-point of my summer theatre-going. Billed as a 50th year celebration of the start of the Kander and Ebb collaboration, it was everything that a tribute show should be. That is, firstly, a balanced and enlightening journey through the unique collaboration (which only ended with the death of lyricist Fred Ebb in 2004) and secondly and probably more importantly, an appealing and felicitous match between material and performer.

There is already a musical revue “And the World Goes Round” based on the same material which requires a small ensemble to present. It is remarkable that Mr. Gryder and his collaborators have created a program that achieves a similar entertainment value full of range and variety for solo performance. Anyone who loves the works of Kander and Ebb will find this program very satisfying. Speaking for myself I was most gratified to hear “Colored Lights” which sent me over the moon and the selections from Kiss of the Spider Woman which appealed to my hunger for the quirky and dramatic. Others have made “Ring Them Bells” something of a required selection and Mr. Gryder did not disappoint with his rousing rendition.

But it is what the performer brings to this material that is golden here. Scott Gryder is one of those absolutely unique and inimitable performers that send his audiences away murmuring “what a character!” How to describe him? He proves that good things sometimes come in small packages. He has a boy-like, you might say diminutive, figure but he is an absolute power-house as a performer. With a resonant tenor and superb musicianship, he starts off on a high (that’s where he seems to reside) and just goes higher and higher. But that’s not all. The “boy” sure can act! The performance ranges from pure show-biz pizzazz to the most searching and tender emotional territory.

It seems to me that Mr. Gryder is one of those artists who dances nimbly from character acting to singing. I’m tempted to call him a character singer. It may have been a “no brainer” for him to assay Cabaret since he is unquestionably able to “cover” the Joel Gray part at a high level of accomplishment. But who would have thought that he also brings the warmth and whimsy of Minnelli and the awesome energy of Rivera to the work.

This is one of the things that cabaret as an art form does best, melding the unique talents of performer and material. I think this act will be a signature for Gryder and Co. as long as they wish to pursue it and audiences will be richer for the experience. I know I am.

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