Off-Broadway Theater Review: THE CONCERT (Second Stage Theatre)

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by Sarah Taylor Ellis on January 23, 2013

in Theater-New York

If The Concert is any indication, than the contemporary musical theater scene is overwhelmingly characterized by pop rock stylings and a crazy high belt. Celebrating the launch of the Directory of Contemporary Theatre Writers, The Concert at Second Stage Theatre on Monday, January 21, presented an array of new musical theater songs performed by a star-studded cast.

Sarah Taylor Ellis' review of The Directory of Contemporary Theatre Writers THE CONCERT at Second Stage

Several songwriters showcased songs from their musicals and works in progress. Michael Wartofsky tested Darius de Haas’ vocal range with the ballad “Without Your Love” from Running Back, a musical comedy about a pro football player who proposes marriage to his boyfriend on national television. Patrick Cook and Frederick Freyer brought a nostalgic Rodgers and Hammerstein air to the concert with “Will You Know Me?” from The Rochester Knockings, sweetly sung by Morgan Billings. The driving beats of “Rock City” from See Rock City & Other Destinations may have been the catchiest of the evening; Bryce Ryness’ performance of this song by Brad Alexander and Adam Mathias echoed into the night, spilling from a sound system with a bit too much reverb.

Sarah Taylor Ellis' review of The Directory of Contemporary Theatre Writers THE CONCERT at Second Stage

Other songwriters offered tunes written for song cycles and cabarets. Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond kicked off the evening with “Blue Horizon” from their song cycle Homemade Fusion, belted by Elizabeth Stanley with a Western twang. Kenita R. Miller rocked the role of an awkward girl conversing with her ex in Daniel Maté’s prose song “I Don’t Think of You (It’s All Good)” from The Untitled Daniel Maté Song Project. Pianist/conductor Matt Castle and a tight ensemble provided versatile accompaniment for the evening’s performers.

Sarah Taylor Ellis' review of The Directory of Contemporary Theatre Writers THE CONCERT at Second Stage

Most of the music performed at The Concert was solid songwriting following a familiar pop rock formula and building to a high belt. As the fabulously funny host Seth Rudetsky quipped after Sam Willmott’s “I’m Sitting Next to Estella,” “Must be up tempo, must have a foreign language word, must belt a high B flat.” If you can hit all the notes, these songs are gold for auditions – which is largely why the Directory of Musical Theatre was created.

Sarah Taylor Ellis' review of The Directory of Contemporary Theatre Writers THE CONCERT at Second Stage

The Directory of Contemporary Theatre Writers, created by David Sisco (founder/curator) and Lorene Phillips (contributing editor), is a notable endeavor to connect musical theater performers to over 150 composers and lyricists, whose songs are not often published, recorded, or distributed. This resource for theater professionals, voice teachers, and students aims to enhance the repertoire available to performers – and to get songwriters paid for their work. An annual subscription to the directory costs $49.95; all songs are then sold directly by the writers.

Sarah Taylor Ellis' review of The Directory of Contemporary Theatre Writers THE CONCERT at Second Stage

The Concert may have sounded a bit monolithic in style, but a few songs caught my attention. One was “Mediocre Man,” composed by one of the few female writers, Rachel Peters. A torch song belted by Mary Testa, “Mediocre Man” offered an ironic celebration of musical theater’s decidedly average leading men and the women who love them: “No PhD, no MBA, no GED… It’s a-okay!” Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen later provided the strongest storytelling of the evening with “Disappear” from The Burnt Part Boys; I look forward to seeing their Broadway-bound musical Tuck Everlasting in the near future.

The Directory is an increasingly expansive guide to the contemporary musical, but bear in mind that it is far from comprehensive. Other voices such as Joe Iconis, Gabriel Kahane, and Max Vernon are bending the genre in interesting directions independently. Still, The Concert offered a smart sampling of songwriters whose work is worth checking out, and the packed audience’s enthusiasm for the future of the musical was one of the most encouraging aspects of the celebration.

photos by Roberto Araujo

The Concert
The Directory of Contemporary Theatre Writers at Second Stage Theatre
played on January 21, 2013
for more information, visit http://www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com/

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