CULTURE & THE ARTS
The Stars Shine at Tilles Center
AUFBAU 62:21 Oct. 11, 1996 p11
[original title: Mary Rodgers Is Sung at the Rainbow Room But the Stars Shine at Tilles Center]
Copyright by Leonard Lehrman & AUFBAU
Sep. 30, 1996 918 words
[The magic in a song happens
when the words give destination and meaning to the music, and the music gives wings to the words. Together as a song they take you places you've never been before. Words make you think thoughts and music makes you feel feelings, but a song can make you feel a thought.
--E.Y.("Yip")Harburg, quoted by Bill Crofut at Tilles Center, Sep. 29, 1996]
[Maybe it's because there's a young Democrat in the White House who seems likely to be there a while, for the first time in a third of a century. Maybe it's because with a lot of work and a little luck the economy actually does seem to be improving. Or maybe it's because there was an awful lot of really good music popular in the theater and the concert hall before the advent of noise, rock and funk. But] two major revivals of Sixties music, braced by a Nineties look at the Thirties, brought audiences to their feet around New York last month.
The usually delightful actress Faith Prince starred at the Rainbow Room all through September in a revue built around the songs of Mary Rodgers, ably assisted by tenor Jason Workman and a little less so by baritone Mark Waldrop, who also penned the words to four new songs and staged the show under the title "3 of Hearts." Most successful were the Stephen Sondheim collaboration called "The Boy From" - a hilarious takeoff (on "The Girl From Ipanema" and other Latin Americana) from The Mad Show of the early 1960s - and the even earlier Marshall Barer collaborations from Mary Rodgers' most successful show to date, the 1959 Once Upon A Mattress, which is slated for a Broadway revival this fall. At least that show had a focus, which this revue unfortunately seemed to lack. The three singers here came out "looking for someone... like me", and never did seem to find anything or anyone - or themselves.
A more promising set of events billed as "Folkfest '96" marathonned through the final weekend of the month at Long Island University's Tilles Center and Symphony Space in Manhattan. Host Robert Sherman struck just the right tone in his WQXR "Woody's Children" manner, noting the seamless blending of Chris Brubeck's riffs on his father Dave's jazz tunes with the Pete Seeger-like banjo-playing of Bill Crofut, and wishing aloud that this might become known as the "first annual Tilles folk-jazz fest"!
Crofut invoked the spirit of E.Y."Yip" Harburg in a moving rendition of the 1930s' Depression anthem, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime," recalling that that song had helped get Franklin Roosevelt elected the first time. He then retuned his instrument to simulate a Japanese koto in a delightful set of variations on a tune from Dave Brubeck's Japanese-influenced "Koto Song" with guitarist Joel Brown and Chris Brubeck on bass, piano and trombone. The identical twin brothers who call themselves "Gemini," Laszlo and Sandor Slomovits (born in Budapest but emigrants via Israel in America since 1959), provided additional amusement and instrumental variety with violin and bones(!)[, along with George Mgrdichian on the oud].
Champion in the multi-instrument department, though, was the indefatigable David Amram, performing on dumbek, French horn, and three flutes - often all at the same time. Amram's three jazz-inflected concerti for violin, cello and bassoon are now out on a Newport Classic CD, and his 1965 Holocaust opera for television, The Final Ingredient [- part of which I had the pleasure of rebroadcasting over WBAI in 1989 -] is now available on a Premier CD. The composer conducted the latter, with some impressive dramatic singing by William Covington, Ezio Flagello and John Fiorito, and Elaine Bonazzi in a minor role. Joseph Sopher in the main role of the father who loses his son was, regrettably, past his prime, and the opera, based on a play by Reginald Rose with a libretto by Arnold Weinstein, deserves a new live production. It takes a lot of attention to follow the action which takes place in Belsen in 1944. Much of it is pantomimed. The libretto is thoughtfully provided, with only a few minor errors in the German ("shoene" for "schoene"; "ein ander" for "einander"). Premier continues its noble tradition of making available important music [that should be out there and that no one else seems willing to issue].
The biggest stars of the weekend, however, were the Chad Mitchell Trio: dry, deadpan Mike Kobluk; witty crooner Joe Frazier; and topping tenor Chad Mitchell; accompanied by two guitars and banjo, all arranged by Milt Okun, who also made the Weavers and the Brothers Four what they had been in the 1950s and '60s. A bit older but as robust as ever, the Trio exuded power and satirical delight in "The Song of the Temperance Union" and Phil Ochs' "Draft Dodger Rag," preceded by an uptodate bemoaning of the national disease which Joe Frazier christened "Pentagonorrhea." Missed was the group's greatest hit which they shyly seemed to deem out-of-date: "The John Birch Society." So why not a "Newt Gingrich Society"? I asked them. There was a gleam in their eye. Or better yet, how about an "SDI Waltz"!? Political satire may indeed have died (at least temporarily), as Tom Lehrer said, when Henry Kissinger was granted the Nobel Peace Prize. But there's life in the old girl yet. If Bob Sherman can bring back the Chad Mitchell Trio, the only thing to be said is: "Again!" and "More!"
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