It’s our universal language and while the political discourse is discordant, music seems to bring out our commonalities. Our favorite musical genres are songs from Broadway, the Great American Songbook, and Jazz and so it was with much anticipation that we looked forward to last week which began with a show at the Delray Beach Playhouse, I Believe in You! – The Songs of Frank Loesser.
Ann arranged a preshow dinner at Racks Fish House off Delray’s famous (and congested) Atlantic Avenue, a happening place. It was a balmy early April evening, with a nice breeze so we dined al fresco. Imagine our surprise reading the appetizer menu which included Copps Island, CT oysters! Copps Island which is connected at low tide to Crow Island is where we have taken our boat for the last 35 years during the summers, anchoring there on weekends. So here we were, some 1,250 miles away dining on wild oysters from those very waters. These are bottom planted as opposed to cage or floating trays and the oysters are known for “sweet briny flavor and plump meats. “ It was a nice and nostalgic start to the evening.
Delray Beach Playhouse which opened in 1947 is a community theatre featuring everything from one person acts to full scale plays. They have a dedicated audience, we now among them. But who knew, the playhouse is on Lake Ida, a fresh water lake right off of I95, comprising 121 acres, but seeming much larger than that as it is long and narrow. Looking at it is reminiscent of our days on Lake George in NY and Candlewood Lake in CT as one can see similar boat houses and lake front homes.
I Believe in You! – The Songs of Frank Loesser was narrated by Randolph DelLago who has been the Resident Artistic Director of the Playhouse since 1982. He also sings in this production. When one thinks of Frank Loesser, one recalls the iconic Guys and Dolls, one of the great classic musicals of Broadway’s Golden Era. It perhaps has more recognizable songs than any other musical, including those of Rogers and Hammerstein. He only wrote four other musicals, The Most Happy Fella and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, being the most notable. Songs were performed from all of these with original still scenes projected on a backdrop. The Most Happy Fella has one of the most moving rhapsodic opera style songs ever written for the Great White Way, “My Heart is So Full of You,” one of my favorites for the piano, with an exotic bridge section of eight bars.
But Loesser, who was cast out by his family as they thought “songwriting” was beneath their dignity (his father was a piano teacher and his brother was a classical piano prodigy), found his roots in popular song in Hollywood before migrating to Broadway. There are many memorable songs he wrote for The Great American Songbook and this show had many, such as “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You,” “Heart and Soul,” “On a Slow Boat to China,” “Two Sleepy People,”“Baby, It’s Cold Outside,”“No Two People,” and “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year” (the latter being another personal piano favorite of mine). Along with DelLago, performances were given by Alicia Branch-Stafford, a soprano, baritone William Stafford, and Hanz Eneart who added a little cabaret dancing to the show as well as joining the ensemble in song with a comedic rendition of” Once in Love with Amy.”
Breaking up the week was a trip to Peanut Island with my friend John, a destination on the boat which will become more frequent as the water warms to bathtub temperatures. Amazing that at one time in my life, jumping into the waters off of Copps Island into 70 degree water was refreshing but now wadding into Peanut’s current 79 degree water seems difficult! Maybe that’s because the air temperature on Thursday was in the high 80s. Got home late in the afternoon, just in time to clean the boat with John, shower, and get ready to go to the Maltz Jupiter Theatre.
There we saw West Side Story towards the end of its run, so I am not publishing a full review. This is what the Maltz Theatre does best but, still, we were a little concerned about seeing this yet again. Could it still possibly be fresh (although the music by Bernstein and lyrics by Sondheim are immortal)?
The short answer is a resounding yes! I think some of the classic musicals are being looked at in a new light, due to the times and the influence of Hamilton. Most recently this is apparent with the Circle in the Square’s current production of Oklahoma which some have criticized as a travesty, irreverent to Rogers and Hammerstein’s intent. I’m not too sure, although that was my knee jerk reaction. Now, thinking about it, and reading more about it, I’m willing to be persuaded and therefore we’re going to see it sometime in August. I’ll be lining up for the chili and corn bread!
There is a dark side to Oklahoma, as in all of the R&H plays. Just think of Billy Bigalow’s corruptibility in Carousel, or the racial tensions of South Pacific and The King and I, the lurking Nazi shadows in The Sound of Music. These musicals were played out for the audiences of their times with relatively happy resolutions (just what was expected then). One could cast them now in an entirely different light and why not?
In a sense, the Maltz’s interpretation of West Side Story has been so influenced. A framing device of Hurricane Maria has been introduced. How ironic is that, the Maria of the story picking up after Hurricane Maria, alone with her memories of Tony? This scene reprises at the end of the show. It was a lovely, moving touch, particularly in the light of how this terrible storm has been politicized.
And with Puerto Rican born Marcos Santana’s direction and musical staging, we have more of a take on the Sharks rather than the Jets. The hell-bent fury of xenophobic victimization is explosively probed by Angel Lozada who plays Bernardo. Michelle Alves performance as Anita is more than up to the easily remembered performance of Chita Rivera in that part. Alves is every bit as dynamic as a dancer and is a very talented vocalist as well.
Not enough praise can be directed toward Jim Schubin who plays Tony and Evy Ortiz as Maria. Schubin brings a strong sense of constant optimism and wonder to the role as well as a clear tenor voice. Ortiz is the ideal Maria, a soprano and coloratura who is radiant in the role of Maria (she was recently on the West Side Story national tour). They had the perfect chemistry as Tony and Maria and their duets soared.
The choreography by Al Blackstone (with additional choreography by the director), gives a hat tip to Jerome Robbins’ choreography but is original and pulsating on the Maltz stage. It’s a smaller cast than the original musical, but one would not know it.
With the refugee crisis of our times, it was time to look at West Side Story through a different lens, and the Maltz comes through.
And last night we attended the 1st Palm Beach International Jazz Festival, the first, we hope, of many in the future. It is the idea of one of South Florida’s premier jazz singers, Yvette Norwood-Tiger, who has traveled the world with her interpretations of jazz classics, particularly songs sung by Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. She performs in six languages including English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Xhosa.
She created an afternoon and evening performance with different groups and singers. We attended the evening performance and thus my comments are confined to that.
First up was Marlow Rosado, a Latin Jazz pianist from Puerto Rico, and his group. Rasado is a salsero, and is imposing at the piano with his driving salsa rhythms, somewhat reminiscent of Monte Alexander. I said to Ann that I’ve never seen a pianist who could pass as a football tight end and the physicality of his performance spoke wonders. He posted last night’s performance on Facebook, so you can catch him there.
Next up was Eric & The Jazzers, a South Florida group of professional musicians that play swing/bebop from the great era of Duke Ellington. Eric Trouillot also served as MC for the night’s performances, a guy from the Bronx who brought out the best of the very well represented NYC crowd (including us).
His group’s trumpet player, Yamin Mustafa, is one of the best we’ve heard and pianist, Chad Michaels, obviously has studied Oscar Peterson’s technique closely. As Mustafa said, the group’s musical selections are eclectic.
But the star of the night was clearly the evening’s organizer, Yvette Norwood-Tiger. Yvette is a survivor of a benign yet life-threatening brain tumor because of its size and position, but had a successful operation some seven years ago. Every time we’ve seen her she encourages the audience to “find that door opening” and for her it is singing Horace Silver’s jazz classic "Song for My Father." Naturally, Yvette means it quite literally, thanking God for the opportunity to continue on with her unique gifts, a powerful yet sometimes subtle interpreter of the Great American Songbook.
Backing her up musically were all the “old gang” we see almost every Sunday night at Double Roads in Jupiter, her musical director for the evening and oh-so talented pianist, also the co founder of the Jupiter Jazz Society, Rick Moore. Along with Rick were Marty Gilman, on sax and flute, Joshua Ewers on bass and Michael Mackey on trumpet. Marty is a multitalented musician who can play a large number of instruments at the professional level and we watched Joshua and Michael while they were still in high school, and have now grown into professional musicians in their own right.
And to bring this entry back to where it began (remember, Copps Island, in the Norwalk CT chain of islands), I learned that Horace Silver (Yvette’s tribute composer), was born in Norwalk, CT so it seems that all roads lead back to our years there.