Direction and Musical Staging by Gene Castle
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited
There is no doubt that it is fitting to pay tribute to and celebrate Harold Arlen one of the most influential and important composers of the Great American Songbook. His unique and interesting expressive style has graced stage and screen for decades. Arlen’s collaboration with some of the best lyricists created a phenomenal range of songs that continue to pay tribute to his legacy. “The Wonderful Wizard of Song” now playing at St. Luke’s Theatre is a valiant attempt by the 3 Crooners, Marcus Goldhaber, George Bugatti and Joe Shepard to accomplish this daunting task, especially given their choice to feature the enormous talent of Antoinette Henry to get the job done. Each of the crooners is vocally capable of delivering their songs in their solo turns and together they produce some interesting and pleasant harmonies. At times the crooner’s staging is, at best, standard musical theatre and the effort, although periodically entertaining, is forced and contrived and fails to enhance the music or delineate the lyric. An exception to this experience is when Ms. Henry takes the stage and surrounds herself with the melodies and plunges head first into the lyric to give an honest and intelligent interpretation. Her vocals are strong and powerful, clear and deliberate, always confident and constantly examining the moment.
Perhaps part of the problem is that when the music by Harold Arlen is joined with the great lyricists such as Ted Koehler, Ira Gershwin, Yip Harburg and Johnny Mercer, the musical’s vocalists decline to trust and believe in the material. It is most welcome to introduce a song with an infusion of a distinctive style, but in this case the integrity of some material was challenged by unnecessary harmonies and strange arrangements. Most notably this happened with the performance of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” arranged for the quartet and being close to unrecognizable, being pretentious by disregarding the dreamy lyric.
With all this critic’s reservations, it is still worth the trip to enjoy the undeniably remarkable music of Harold Arlen and the memorable lyrics of his notable collaborators. The exuberant cast constantly works to entertain the audience for the song filled 85 minutes, whether playful, moody or soulful, they produce a pleasant evening of musical theatre.
THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF SONG
“The Wonderful Wizard of Song” is produced by Yellow Brick Productions in association with Shea Arender, Steven Colucci and Jerry Rosenberg and has an original concept by Nigel Wright, Sam Arlen and George Bugatti with special thanks to Harold Arlen’s son Sam Arlen for all archival and historical content.
“The Wonderful Wizard of Song” features vocalists George Bugatti, Marcus Goldhaber, Joe Shepherd, and Antoinette Henry with a creative team which includes Josh Iacovelli (set and lighting design), Amy Pedigo-Otto (costume design), Marc Heller (sound design), and Andrew Smithson (musical director).