Entertainment » Music

The Music Men: Meredith Willson and Gene de Paul

by Les Spindle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Aug 7, 2013
Robert Yacko, Jane Noseworthy, Justin Jones, Bruce Merkle, Sue Raney, Allen Everman, Charlotte Mary Wen, David Zack, Chelsea Emma Franko, Musical Director Tom Griep
Robert Yacko, Jane Noseworthy, Justin Jones, Bruce Merkle, Sue Raney, Allen Everman, Charlotte Mary Wen, David Zack, Chelsea Emma Franko, Musical Director Tom Griep  (Source:Stan Mazin)

The latest cabaret offering produced by Bruce Kimmel's Kritzerland Records at Sterling's Upstairs at the Federal in North Hollywood, is "The Music Men: Meredith Willson and Gene de Paul," a pleasing array of vintage show tunes from two gifted songwriters.

Though Willson and de Paul are less well known than the likes of Stephen Sondheim and George Gershwin, both tunesmiths created memorable catalogs of Broadway and Hollywood songs. The single performance on Sunday evening, August 4, at Michael Sterling's charming supper club offered a strong roster of first-rate performers, under the supervision of talented musical director/accompanist Tom Griep.

Willson's career encompassed only four stage musicals-"The Music Man," "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," "Here's Love" (the stage adaptation of the film classic "The Miracle on 34th Street"), and "1491," his ill-fated late-career opus about Christopher Columbus.

The works of de Paul include "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" (an MGM film classic later adapted for the musical stage), "Li'l Abner" (a Broadway hit subsequently adapted to film), and many songs from various films of the 1940s, as well as his perennial pop hit "Teach Me Tonight," with lyrics by Sammy Cahn. Veteran Capitol Records pop superstar Sue Raney was joined for this revue by a splendid ensemble of singer-actors (Allan Everman, Chelsea Emma Franko, Jane Noseworthy, Charlotte Mary Wen, Robert Yacko, Justin Jones, Bruce Merkle, and David Zack).

The delicious between-songs patter of producer-host Kimmel struck a resonant chord with this critic when he spoke of the time as a youth when he first saw the film version of "The Music Man" and promptly went back to see it multiple times. Willson's "The Music Man" (1962) and "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" (1964) were indeed the two films that opened my own eyes to the glories of the musical genre, generating quick repeat visits. I instantly fell in love with the musical works of Broadway and Hollywood and the delicious lore that goes with them.

The glorious "Music Man" numbers were the highlights of the evening, starting with Kimmel's own rousing rendition of "Trouble," proving that overprotective parents and self-appointed morals watchdogs never go out of style. Raney's soaring take on the romantic ballad "Till There Was You" warranted its exuberant audience response.

The glorious "Music Man" numbers were the highlights of the evening, starting with Kimmel’s own rousing rendition of "Trouble," proving that overprotective parents and self-appointed morals watchdogs never go out of style.

Another ballad from this show's Marian the Librarian character, "Being in Love" (originally immortalized by Barbara Cook, then by Shirley Jones), was likewise terrific as interpreted by soprano supreme Noseworthy. The captivating Everman provided two more "Music Man" gems at the conclusion of the show, "The Sadder But Wiser Girl for Me" and the immortal "Seventy-Six Trombones," which evolved here into a jubilant singalong number.

From the delectable "Molly Brown," Yacko's magnificent baritone voice was perfectly suited to "Colorado My Home" (cut prior to the Broadway opening, then wisely reinstated for Harve Presnell in the film version). "I Ain't Down Yet," which was correctly cited by Kimmel as one of the best opening numbers ever in a musical, was an utter delight in its energetic delivery by Franko, backed by an irresistible trio (Jones, Merkle, and Zack) as Molly's country bumpkin brothers).

Beyond these two musicals, the most familiar material came from "Lil' Abner," as in Yacko's funny and spirited take on "Jubilation T. Cornpone." Two lovely songs from "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" ("I'll Remember April" and "Wonderful, Wonderful Day") were delivered with panache by Franko. Yet, I frankly missed some of my own favorites from this score ("Bless Your Beautiful Hide" and "Sobbin' Women."). As the notions of relations between men and women have changed drastically since the 1950s, exclusions such as these perhaps were made in the spirit of political correctness.

Noseworthy's "Teach Me Tonight" was another highlight. Everman found great fun in the bouncy "Get a Map and Be On Your Way," from "1491," a show that Kimmel characterized as "full of great songs, but straddled with an unworkable book." Willson's legendary flop folded en route to Broadway. Yacko crooned sweetly in "Past My Prime" from the little-known "Here's Love." Sweet-voiced Wen soared in a handful of lesser-known numbers.

Kudos to Kimmel and his co-producer Adryan Russ for another evening of musical mirth and nostalgia at the cozy and classy Sterling's Upstairs.

"The Music Men-Meredith Willson & Gene de Paul" was performed on August 4 at Sterling's Upstairs at the Federal, 5303 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. For information and tickets on future performances, call 818-754-8700 or visit www.msapr.net/Sterling-s-at-The-Federal.html

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