Cabaret Review: JERRY HERMAN: THE BROADWAY LEGACY CONCERT (Samueli Theater at SCFTA)

by Tony Frankel on January 20, 2017

in Uncategorized

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JERRY HERMAN’S LEGACY ISN’T IN JEOPARDY,
BUT TRIBUTE CONCERTS ARE

With an evening of Jerry Herman tunes sung by Broadway powerhouses Ron Raines, Karen Morrow, Debbie Gravitte, Jason Graae and Scott Coulter (pictured left), what could go wrong? Not much. But not much was spectacular either. A pleasant outing for those strolling down memory lane, this tribute concert, sort of like five cabaret acts with solo piano, was only as good as the individual performer and his or her interpretation of a song.

Fortunately, we always have Mr. Herman’s astounding tunes, and the 90-minute one-act which opened last night at the supper club-styled Samueli Theatre offered 18 of them from his shows both well-known and obscure. The target audience may be those who reminisce about the Broadway of lore, but it’s also a great opportunity for a new generation to be exposed to the fantastic music and lyrics of the man who brought us the hit shows La Cage aux FollesMame, and Hello, Dolly! And there are plenty of jewels in his flops, too.

I’m not worried about Jerry Herman’s legacy; his songs will live on. But based on this experience, I’m not sure about cabaret.

The issue here is that each song should soar. But let’s face it, with Coulter directing this as one of his many package cabarets designed to travel to the nearest retirement community (see Spot-On Entertainment), there isn’t a lot of nuance in this gig. Some of it, frankly, felt manufactured and pushy. The irrefutably talented Raines (pictured above) never seemed terribly comfortable in a cabaret setting, and his patter was almost non-existent (he even fumbled one intro), and he could be somewhat affected (“Let’s Not Waste a Moment” from Milk and Honey). But the man’s pipes offered a strong “I Won’t Send Roses”. Tony-winner Gravitte (also pictured above) was much more comfortable, but surprisingly lacked distinction and soulfulness. Yet who am I to argue when she belts so well? She knocked Mack & Mabel‘s “Wherever He Ain’t” out of the park. Coulter had some lovely moments in Dolly‘s “It Only Takes a Moment” and Dear World‘s “Kiss Her Now”, but they bordered on slick.

The truly exceptional parts came courtesy of Karen Morrow and Jason Graae. Madam Morrow is stage distinction personified, giving more than a glimmer of what makes her a legend in the vein of Lansbury and Louden. She offered a wistful rendition of a song cut from the original Hello, Dolly!, which would later be reinstated for Ethel Merman’s take on Ms. Levi: “Love, Look in My Window”. This was followed by a hysterical “Where in the World Is My Prince?” from the unproduced Miss Firecracker (available as a concept album). Later in the show, she returned with a soul-stirring take on “Song in the Sand” (although she twice credited the book of La Cage not to Harvey Fierstein but to Michael Stewart, who wrote Dolly). While I credit Coulter for an astounding array of tunes we normally don’t get to hear, he really should work on his performer’s patter. And the ensemble numbers “It’s Today”, “The Best of Times”, and “Hello, Jerry” (which I didn’t recognize–there was no song list) were just this side of treacly.

Graae is a one-man show. Usually brash to the point of overwhelm, here the cabaret superstar outdid himself with pranks and joking sensibility not unlike Benny and Hope. For “You I Like” from the short-lived The Grand Tour, he played oboe (“I’m an oboe-sexual”) and offered kooky movement. Later, he put on taps and threw a wooden plank on the floor, only to intentionally screw up his dancing in “Tap Your Troubles Away”. He also showed a serious side with “I Am What I Am”. And I’ll never forget two lines from his intros: “‘Tulsa’ is ‘A Slut’ spelled backwards” and “I peaked in Burbank”.

Everyone was aided by the riotously talented John Boswell (left) on piano. The day before the concert, the ASCAP Foundation led a workshop with Graae and Coulter, and the guys picked two exceptional young women–local students–to join the show with one song each: Cailen Fu did a swell job with the heartbreaking lyrics of “The Best in the World” (from A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine) and Allison Parker blew us away with “Look What Happened to Mabel”. After hearing them, I am convinced that Herman’s legacy will safely be in the hands of new generation.

photos courtesy of SCFTA

Jerry Herman: The Broadway Legacy Concert
Samueli Theater
Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa
ends on January 22, 2017
for tickets ($79), call 714.556.2787 or visit SCFTA

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Scott Coulter February 11, 2017 at 1:15 pm

Hi, Tony —

Thanks for the review of the show.
I appreciate your taking the time to write about the evening.
The show was conceived (and usually performed) as a symphony concert.
This was the first time we’d tried it in a scaled-down version
We learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. 🙂

Best,
Scott

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