October 1, 2009

I Miss The Music





When they first announced the cast for First You Dream: The Music of Kander and Ebb, I knew I had to go. I was already planning a trip to NYC in late Sept anyway and it was only a matter of whether Lani would take the road trip with me. But she was up for it so we set off Friday (9/25) morning and saw the show that night. We even got our good friend Ariel, who was our host, to come with us to the concert.

Kander & Ebb is one of my favorite musical theatre writing teams. And this evening of their songs is truly a delight. First You Dream played in the Signature Theatre in Arlington VA for a limited run that ended last Sunday 9/27. The concert was housed in an intimate space with a 19 piece orchestra (which was phenomenal) and 6 equally talented singer/actors comprised of Heidi Blickenstaff, James Clow, Eleasha Gamble, Norm Lewis, Julia Murney and Matthew Scott. They played around 32 songs with their underappreciated songs performed for the First Act (such as Sing Happy, City Lights, Life is and Coloured Lights) and more popular ones like Cell Block Tango, Maybe This Time, Cabaret and New York, New York performed in Act 2. It is staggering to realize how many great songs this writing team has written.

Eleasha Gamble proves that she’s ready for Broadway by keeping up with her Broadway co-stars and did a rousing rendition of New York New York. Matthew Scott’s beautiful tenor voice was perfect for a unique version of Cabaret/I Miss the Music. James Clow’s baritone was soothing as he sings My Own Space. Norm Lewis’ full bodied baritone was flawless for every number that he did but my favorite was Love and Love Alone/Life Is. I've always loved his voice. Heidi Blickenstaff shows her great voice and comedic timing in Ring Them Bells, the Act 1 closer. I've never realized how funny she is as a performer until this show. I guess, seeing her in [TOS], her co-stars were more of a ham than her. Julia Murney shows her acting range in Coloured Lights. She also manages to build a story arc in the Second Act transitioning from an elated How Lucky Can You Get and then coming back onstage further down Act 2 singing an emotionally depleted I Don’t Care Much. I am constantly amazed at how fearlessly she throws herself into a song and manages to squeeze out every emotion.

There were several numbers in the show which was an unexpected but effective surprise. One is Boom Ditty Boom which is a song that only contained those 3 words over and over but conveyed so much more due to the staging and acting of the whole company. It takes you to first attraction, to falling in love, to being a couple, to boredom and relationship issues and then to eventually re-connection. It’s quite a fun and amusing number. Another is a new twist in Cell Block Tango with the guys incorporated in the number as Liz (Norm Lewis), Hunyak (Matthew Scott), Mona (James Clow). Added to that is Heidi Blickenstaff’s drunk yet seductive Annie and Julia Murney’s crack snorting and very hyper Velma which manage to inject humour into the piece.

Speaking of Heidi and Julia, these 2 ladies have great chemistry onstage. They look like they were having so much fun performing with each other. The showstopper of the night would be the mash up of The Money Tree (Julia Murney) and Maybe This Time (Heidi Blickentstaff). Kudos to the director, Eric Schaeffer and music director, David Loud for connecting these two songs together. They both talk about relationships……..one that ended and thus jaded (The Money Tree) and one just starting and hopeful (Maybe This Time). Julia Murney sings first and builds into a crescendo but holds off on the final note then comes in Heidi Blickenstaff singing Maybe This Time. As Heidi gradually builds up towards the last verses of the song, Julia sings in counterpoint:

Heidi:

Everybody loves a winner / So nobody loved me / Lady Peaceful, Lady Happy / That's what I long to be / All the odds are in my favor / Something's bound to begin / It's got to happen, happen sometime / Maybe this time I'll win

Julia (although not 100 % sure of the last lines):

The day will come / He'll come back to me / When the sun turns black / The day will come
And he’ll change his tune / When winter’s green / Oh, the time will come / When he'll never stray / On that day when the rain falls up / When the dollar fits / On money tree / That old money tree / He'll come back to me

It’s a belting face off and it’s just simply THRILLING!

It's such a beautiful show. Too bad it was just a short run. But having talked to Norm, Julia and Heidi at the end of the show, they have mentioned that it might have another life somewhere. I hope so for I already miss the music.

Photos I took that night:





The staircase at the theatre entrance


Julia Murney

Norm Lewis

Video snippet of the show

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