Carrie That Tune

by Les Spindle

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday September 3, 2013

Carrie That Tune

A favorite pastime of Broadway musical fanatics is sharing stories of infamous musical flops. Of course, the perception of a "flop" can reflect a box-office calamity or an artistic failure, or a combination of the two. The measure of artistic worth is subjective.

For his new revue, conceiver-director Trace Oakley provides two hours worth of Broadway ditties that he considers memorable from shows he deems flops. The points appear to be twofold-poking satiric fun at the Broadway hall of shame while offering musical numbers that are worth revisiting. Musical-theater aficionados will undoubtedly challenge some of Oakley's choices, while wondering why their favorite tunes from problematic shows aren't here.

For example, it seems astonishing that only "Flora the Red Menace" from the John Kander-Fred Ebb oeuvre is represented here. Despite this duo's legendary hits ("Chicago," "Kiss of the Spider Woman," "Cabaret"), they have probably created more great songs from less successful shows than any other songwriters. (Think "70 Girls 70," "Steel Pier," "The Happy Time" to begin with.)

Interestingly, one of their most lauded efforts ("The Scottsboro Boys"-12 Tony nominations) closed after a two-month 2010 Broadway run. It's perhaps a prime choice for a future "Carrie" revue.

Yet, there are only so many favorites one can fit within a revue, so how does this production fare with what is included? Most of the song choices seem welcome, but the production's key shortcomings are an uneven performing ensemble and a general lack of polish. The bare-bones staging effort gives an early-workshop feel, which might be easier to overlook if the singing, dancing, and characterizations didn't feel inconsistent.

Oakley incorporates several behind-the-scenes anecdotes-for example, recalling producer David Merrick's famously outrageous and unscrupulous ploys to publicize his shows. But the performers too often deliver the narration in a rushed and indifferent manner, failing to convey the intended irony or humor, and sometimes obscuring the point.

Nonetheless, things start promisingly with a group sequence from Jule Styne's 1965 turkey "Subways are For Sleeping," The book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green focused on the peculiar topic of homeless citizens occupying a subway station, which perhaps could come across as particularly relevant today. Daniel Floren is captivating in the upbeat number, "I Just Can't Wait," and he elicits fun from the novelty song, "Subway Directions," along with Joshua Kerr and Rosanne Limeres.

Daniel Floren is captivating in the upbeat number, "I Just Can't Wait," and he elicits fun from the novelty song, "Subway Directions," along with Joshua Kerr and Rosanne Limeres.

One might begin to assume downbeat topics dominated the early '60s musicals, as the next number, from 1965's "Kelly" (by Eddie Lawrence and Mark Charlap), told of a failed suicide attempt. One of the evening's biggest missteps arrived with the song "Never Go There Anymore" from this show. This turgid song, in a mostly inaudible and nuance-free delivery by Kerr, seemed out of place. "You've Got Possibilities," a number from the imperfect, but underrated 1966 tuner "It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's Superman!," originally performed by Linda Lavin, was capably rendered by Alena Bernardi in an appropriately vampish style.

Two standout songs from Stephen Sondheim's 1981 "Merrily We Roll Along," which has gained stronger favor since its original brief run, were well represented. The pleasing renditions were "Not a Day Goes By" (solo by Mirie Ben-Tzur) and Floren's soulful "Good Thing Going."

The underappreciated Stephen Sondheim-Richard Rodgers 1965 collaboration, "Do I Hear a Waltz?", which enjoyed a glorious 2001 revival in Pasadena Playhouse in starring Carol Lawrence and Alyson Reed, was represented with the saucy number "We're Gonna Be All Right," which boasts a quintessential Rodgers melody and Sondheim's witty lyrics. Shelley Scovin and Kerr were delightful in this number.

The first act concluded with what strikes me as a so-so song from the legendary 1988 musical fiasco "Carrie," which was revived last year Off-Broadway, biting the dust once again, after a month. Yet Ety Terry offered a spirited and nuanced take on the unusual number.

From Tim Rice, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus' 1986 Cold-War musical "Chess," Terry gave a strong rendition of the score's "Else's Story" while Len Smith led the cast in a rousing "One Night in Bangkok."

Kerr's nightclub-style take on Anthony Newley, in "Who Can I Turn Too?" and "The Joker' from the 1965 absurdist tuner "The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd," scored well with the Newley accent and reasonably so with his characteristics.

Sweet-voiced soprano Bernardi performed a resplendent rendition from "Glitter and Be Gay," Barbara Cook's legendary number from the 1956 Leonard Bernstein-Lillian Hellman masterpiece, "Candide."

It was a relief to see songs from Jerry Herman's incomparable 1974 "Mack and Mabel" score included-Rosanna Lumeris' lovely "Time Heals Everything" and Averi Quinn Yorek's soaring "I Won't Send Roses" refrain. While Oakley thankfully saw fit to include two great tunes from this show, Herman composed equally sublime work in some of his other box-office failures (such as "Dear World" and "The Grand Tour"). Could we place a bid to hear those in Carrie That Tune II?

"Carrie That Tune" runs through September 15 at the Avery Schreiber Playhouse, 4934 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. For information or tickets, visit www.averyschreiberplayhouse.com.