June 19, 2010

In Concert: "Everyday Rapture" and "Sondheim on Sondheim"

A medley of pop songs provided the opening number for last Sunday’s Tony Awards show (click here to see it).  And that made perfect sense to me.  Not just because so many of last season’s song-and-dance shows were jukebox musicals that counted on familiar tunes to draw ticket buyers, but because so many of those shows are little more than pop music concerts.  Only at much higher prices.

As I said in my earlier American Idiot review (click here to read it), there’s not much difference between that show, an onstage recreation of the eponymous Green Day album, and a Green Day concert. Except that you get to see the real band members Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tré Cool at the concert. And it doesn't cost you as much as seeing John Gallagher and the rest of the Broadway gang at the St. James Theatre.  

But American Idiot isn't the only pseudo-musical around. Lots of theater insiders were pulling for Sheri Rene Scott to win an award for her show, Everyday Rapture.  Several handicappers even predicted that she’d win for Best Book of a Musical.  But there wasn't enough book for me. 

The conceit for this semi-autobiographical show is that Scott, a Broadway belter who has played the comic female part in such musicals as Aida, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and The Little Mermaid and whose mother was Mennonite, grew up, her onstage alter ego says, torn between following Judy (as in Garland) and Jesus (as in Christ).   The show is the story of how she reconciles the two and it wraps in serious subjects like abortion and AIDS along with less weighty ones like Scott’s first starry-eyed visit to New York and her later funny relationship with an online fan.  

Don’t get me wrong. I had a good time at Everyday Rapture. And you probably will too if you make it there before it closes on July 11. It's hard not to like Scott (click here to read an interview she did with Broadway.com) and she works hard to win over the audience.  She sings, supported by two zaftig backup singers who make her look even tinier than she already is.  She cracks self-deprecating jokes. She even does magic tricks. But it all seemed to me more like a cabaret act or one of those TV specials they used to put together for what-do-we-do-with-her-now song-and-dance women like Mitzi Gaynor or Ann-Margret.

And you could say basically the same thing about Sondheim on Sondheim.  Only in this case, the life at the center of the show is Broadway’s reigning composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. The master himself appears in a series of video segments that are amusing, if not overly revealing. The music, of course, is great but the connection between what you see and what you hear is tenuous at best. At heart, this show, which is scheduled to close on June 27, is simply another Sondheim revue.  And what musical lover doesn’t already have a bunch of those on LP, CD and iEverything downloads.

The singers performing this time out are all top-shelf and include: Tom Wopat,  Vanessa Williams, Euan Morton, Norm Lewis, and the inestimable Barbara Cook (click here to see a behind-the-scenes photo gallery of the stars) . I’d crawl across broken glass to see a completely new musical showcasing almost any one of them. And I wish the folks who are putting Broadway shows together would give me the chance to do just that.

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