Sunday, April 19, 2009

review - Back to Bacharach and David

Back to Bacharach and David
a musical event
The Music Box @ Fonda
through May 17

Being a huge fan of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's work, I was thrilled to see the announcement of a brand new show in appreciation of their great musical heritage. I am also a big fan of Kathy Najimy and her edgy work as a comedienne/actress. Najimy directed Back to Bacharach and David, and I must admit, I was disenchanted at the overall effects of the evening.
The one positive about this music is that it is true pop and inherently upbeat. Even when a character is down in the dumps as in Promises, Promises, he or she finds a way up and out of the doldrums through singing a happy tune. Music, afterall, moves the soul, and like laughter, makes one smile when sad. That said, my main objection to Back to Bacharach is its overt insistence on being cute and hip. Bacharach and David's music has built in energy and joy. It is not necessary to force it or restructure the arrangements to make them zippier for an audience. Many of the song arrangements in this revue are so radically different that the songs become unrecognizable. The result: I was not moved. "A House Is Not a Home" is a beautiful song that usually moves me to tears. Not so here. Put into a medley, its simple message loses power. Medleys allow more songs to be performed, especially when there is a large repertoire to offer. But too many medleys have a tendency to distill unique songs rather than empower them.
There are some wonderful exceptions during the 75-minute set.. The Promises, Promises medley is terrific and also the combination of "Windows of the World" and "What the World Needs Now" heightened by background images of Mother Theresa, etc... and same-sex marriage. This was a wonderful moment.
The four lesser known performers: Diana de Garmo, Tressa Thomas, Tom Lowe and Susan Mosher make some beautiful sounds together and individually, especially Thomas and de Garmo whose powerhouse instruments are most effective on standards like "Walk On By" and "Anyone Who Had a Heart". Lowe does nice work with "Alfie" and also does quite well with the fast-paced choreographic moves he is called upon to deliver. I would have preferred to see one more male singer in the group, though. The three females often overshadow the one male, creating an imbalance.
Najimy's concepts/scenarios are never boring, but there could be less of them. When the four artists just sing, the song is the thing... and the show is at its best.
If it takes new arrangements (Steve Gunderson) to get a younger generation to pay attention to Bacharach/David, then so be it. I am already a fan and would have been much happier with a more traditional approach.

3 0ut of 5 stars


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