Monday, June 19, 2017

"Evening, Sweet Evening!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

                              Oh, my God, darlings!  When I heard, as far back as January, that Feinstein's 54 Below was going to devote an evening to "Henry, Sweet Henry," hosted, no less, by Original Cast Member, and Musical Theater Legend, Neva Small, I knew I just HAD to be there!  So, David and I got tickets immediately.

                                Anticipation was high.  Especially, just weeks before, we encountered Neva Small, herself, at a service honoring the 100 years of the Actors' Temple.  We told her we were looking forward to the evening.  Especially me.

                                  Ever since hearing the songs, decades ago, I have loved the score of this show, which I never saw.  It ran for only 80 performances, from October 23 to December 31, 1967.  My parents had promised to take me to see it after the Holidays, but, alas, it closed.

                                  For those who want to know the more substantial history of this show, get hold of a copy of William Goldman's book, "The Season."  It is all there.

                                  What is important, for Musical Theater Queens here, is that this was the show that put the late Alice Playten on the map, and earned her a TONY nomination, for her renderings of "Poor Little Person," and her big show-stopper, "Nobody Steps On Kafritz!"  Which, by the way, I saw Alice herself perform, live, on the Avery Fisher Hall stage,  back on October 25, 2004!!!!!!!!  But this is also the show that made Neva Small a Legend Of The Musical Stage.  When Bob Merrill realized what the throbbing, emotional quality of her voice could convey--at age 14, no less!!!!!!!!!--he wrote, for her, the number, "I Wonder How It Is."  You have to hear it, darlings, especially when  she gets to the part, "Sometimes,  I just visualize..............!" Oh, my God!  Neva just takes your breath away!  And she has been doing it ever since!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                   I was so psyched for this evening!  My anticipation was even higher when I saw that one of the presentation's producers was Steven Carl McCasland.  This was the young man who is the head of the Beautiful Soup Theater Company, and directed that moving production of the musical, "RAGS," back in 2013.  That was four years ago!  Imagine!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                   So, how was the evening?  How could it not be magical, because, just to hear this song sung professionally is a treat so seldom offered Theater Queens that I am disappointed more did not flock to it!  Sure, some were there, (you could tell that by the applause accompanying the names of Neva Small, and, especially, Robin Wilson!!!!!!!!!) but many were not the least bit familiar with the show.   I was excited for them, for what they were about to hear.

                                 For starters, the complete score was sung!  I wish they had opened with an audio of the original show's Overture, to get the house in the mood.  This show has one of the most rousing overtures out there, underrated and under appreciated!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                  Neva, of course, was a dream.  Though I wish the evening had made more use of her.  Couldn't she have sung just one song?  Even a reprise of "I Wonder How It Is?"

                                   Taking Neva's role that night, as Marian Gilbert, was a young lady named Megan Moynahan.  She had to be the most nervous person on that stage, what with her role's originator barely feet away from her, the entire evening.  But, so help me, not only did suggest a young Neva visually, she came as close as any I have heard to achieving what Neva Small did in "I Wonder How It Is."  My breath was taken away.  And when she and Beada Briglia, as Valerie Boyd, sing their musical duets, "Henry, Sweet Henry" becomes the lost treasure of theatrical magic proponents such as I claim it to be!


                                   I have to say it, and I will be as kind as I can, but Miss Brigilia was a disappointment as Val, when she did the solos.  The sad thing is, she has a voice, she just doesn't know how to control and use it.  And she was off pitch several times.  When she began the short, but lovely, "Do You Ever Go To Boston?," I finally thought she was getting it right, but then, what should have been a tender and wistful song, she transformed into a belting ballad that was so overdone.  Val is a sad soul; she is a rich child whom nobody wants, and all her solos are tinged with some of this sadness.  Which needs to be conveyed.  Except Miss Briglia just stands square and center and belts everything, often to the point of being overly and unattractively shrill.  The poor thing was using a mike too!!!  So, the belting was unnecessary.  By the time she got to "Here I Am," I was biting my tongue; so much so, I wanted to run up to the stage, grab Neva, and sing the score with her!!!!!!!!!!  Anytime, Neva; just say the word!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                 Seriously, darlings, I felt bad for Miss Briglia, who should have been restrained, or replaced.  Once those duets came, Miss Moynahan carried her through on them, but the solos fell far short of what they are supposed to be.

                                   Alice Playten is gone, unfortunately, so Alexa Shae Nziak, in the role of Broadway's first musical Mean Girl, Lillian Kafrtiz, had no cause to be nervous.  Her numbers came through, not only because she knew how to belt the numbers properly, she also knew how to act her songs, with her voice.  I loved her as Kafritz, but thought, maybe she should have played Val.


                                    The Girls should have walked off with the show.  They are supposed to.   Miss Briglia was the one misstep that failed.

                                       Ron Spivak was humorously smarmy as Henry Orient, and Corinna Sowers Adler an appropriately selfish bitch, as Mrs. Boyd, a mother any child is well to be rid of.  The musical ends just as the rest of Val's story is beginning; with Mom out the picture, it can't help being a happy one.

                                         Despite what you just read, I loved the evening, darlings!!!!!!!!!!  Nevertheless, there were some qualms--

                                         1. The final line of "Academic Fugue" was cut.  The final line is, "I'll drink some ink, and die!"

                                          2. Again, a better Val was needed.

                                          3. More of Neva.

                                          4. This is a period show, and should have had some visual uniformity. The girls should have been in private school uniforms, not looking like Lindsay Lohan clones!!!!!!!!!!!

                                            But this is me, darlings!  You know how specific I can get, when I want something I love to be absolutely perfect!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                              "Henry, Sweet Henry" celebrates its 50th Anniversary this October.

                                               Despite my qualms, this was still a jeweled Valentine of an evening!

                                               But just wait till I do it with Neva!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                               Above, here are Neva and Robin Wilson, for those who have never experienced the magic of the 1967 original!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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