David Zippelis alive and well and writing wonderful songs, as can be witnessed by this compendium of his work, It's Better With a Band at the Prince Music Theater. starring John Barrowman, Judy Blazer, Marva Hicks and Sally Mayes. This review, directed by Joe Leonardo with a striking set by Ray Klausen, is an evening of top-notch material exquisitely presented.
The delight of the evening is not only in hearing songs that you've heard before, and saying "Oh, yeah, that's a good song, isn't it?" But also in hearing tunes you've never heard before and saying, "Oh, yeah, that is a good song, isn't it! Zippel has worked with so many different composers that there is never a lack of diversified musical styles. From the jazz of Cy Coleman to the pop of Alan Menken to the musical comedy chutspah of Marvin Hamlisch -- there's something for everyone here in this musical grab bag. And there isn't a clinker among them - but in deference to time and space I will only mention the "highlights".
Sally Mayes does a pull all the stops out rendition of the belty "You Can Always Count On Me" , probably the best known song from "City of Angels" (a Zippel/Coleman collaboration). John Barrowman is put through his paces during "My Rules/You're Living on an Elliot Garfield Grant", a non-stop comic monologue by a pushy little actor who is trying to assert himself, from "The Goodbye Girl" (Zippel/Hamlisch). I had forgotten how funny this song was. The ladies sing two songs I had never heard before, "Make Me a Star" (Zippel/Sommers) and "Cold Hard Cash" (Zippel/Harper). The former having a wonderful vocal arrangement by Rob LaRocco. Judy Blazer does a superb job of "Born for You" a sweet, poignant pop song, with music by the wonderful David Pomeranz. "Broadway" was another surprise, from "Pamela's First Musical" (Zippel/Coleman) and "All Girl Band" from "A...My Name is Alice". "The Measure of Love" is a comicly wry duet sung by Mr. Barrowman and Ms. Blazer from an untitled musical about Napolean and Josephine. The hook line is, "The measure of love is in the pleasure of pain", insinuating that Jo and Nappy delighted in hurting one another a bit. One can only hope that this is a new collaboration with Mr. Coleman and that we can look forward to seeing this show soon.
The true apex of the evening, however, came from an unanticipated place. "Go the Distance" from the Disney movie, "Hercules" possesses a strong, simple lyric and a dynamic, pop melodic structure as only Alan Menken could write. Michael Bolton's raspy rock voice on the soundtrack helped to make it a hit on the charts. I always liked this song, but I was never emotionally moved by it. I had no idea what it would sound like in the hands of a truly powerful performer until Marva Hicks sang it. This lady rips your heart out and then serves it to you on a platter. Too bad she didn't get to sing it for the film - there wouldn't have been a dry eye in the house.
The orchestrations and musical direction are by Christopher Marlowe. It is interesting to note that the "band" that accompanied this review was actually more of a string ensemble, being made up of Piano, Synthesizer, Cello, Guitar, Banjo, Acoustic & Electric Basses and Drums. I guess the synthesizer substituted for a trumpet and a sax. I personally missed the colors that a live brass and woodwind bring to a band. However, the strings have their salient points. Being close to the human voice themselves, they always accompany and never overpower the singers.
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