Friday, December 6, 2019

126 (2019-2020): Review: ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN IN THE THEATER: THE MUSICAL WORLD OF MAURY YESTON (seen December 5, 2019)

“And It Did!”

Let me admit up front that, much as I love musical theatre, I’m not much of a fanboy beyond the classic work of Gershwin, Kern, Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Loesser, and the like, with, perhaps, a few exceptions, like Hamlisch and Sondheim. 
Alex Getlin, Benjamin Eakeley, Justin Keyes, Jovan E'Sean, Mamie Parris. All photos: Carol Rosegg.
So, seeing a splendid revue of the cream of Maury Yeston’s crop at the York Theatre comes as something of a revelation, as I never saw his biggest Broadway shows, Nine and Grand Hotel, represented by nearly one-third (eight) of the 23 songs in Anything Can Happen in the Theater: The Musical World of Maury Yeston. I saw Broadway’s Titanic, and the Off-Broadway Death Takes a Holiday, but not the other Off-Broadway shows on his résumé. 
Justin Keyes, Mamie Parris, Benjamin Eakeley, Alex Getlin, Jovan E'Sean. 
Of course, a revue of show music is not like seeing the songs as they were performed in their original contexts, especially when the revue’s format is as pure as it is here. In other words, Anything Can Happen . . . has no immediately discernible through-line or theme other than to arrange one song after the other, sung chorally or solo, balanced mainly by the relative nature of their musicality or tempo. There’s no linking dialogue of any sort, so you need to glance at your program to learn even the most basic thing about any song, which, of course, is what show it appeared in.
Mamie Parris.
Alex Getlin.
Aficionados—the kind who listen over and over to cast albums—will certainly know most songs’ provenances, and anyone familiar with the source material of Grand Hotel and Nine will quickly link their songs to those shows. On the other hand, half a dozen are not attributed to any show at all.
Justin Keyes, Alex Getlin, Benjamin Eakeley, Mamie Parris, Javon E'Sean.
The show’s conceiver, director Gerard Alessandrini, of Forbidden Broadway fame, says in a program note that these “are from shows that Maury wrote that never reached the boards, and some are independent songs not from any specific project—and one was written specifically for this show.” For ignorant viewers like me, it’s a shame that, at the least, none of these are so noted in the program or given the benefit of a simple, identifying projection.
Mamie Parris, Alex Getlin, Javon E'Sean, Justin Keyes.
That, however, is my sole quibble (well, okay, that title could be clipped) with this awesomely engaging overview of the best of Maury Yeston, who wrote both the thoroughly delightful music and the unusually witty, touching, or poetic—as the case may be—lyrics of one song after the other. Indeed, when divorced from their original contexts, and insightfully interpreted by such an attractive, superbly gifted ensemble as the three men and two women gathered here, the lyrics assume an even more distinct clarity because you automatically create your own situation for understanding and relating to them.
Javon E'Sean, Alex Getlin, Justin Keyes.
A single pianist, the exceptional Greg Jarrett, is situated up center within James Morgan’s elegantly simple, cabaret-style set of a sky backdrop, a few platforms, and several arched, false prosceniums (think Radio City Music Hall or the Hollywood Bowl). Notable are the panels displaying blown-up images from Yeston’s scores. 
Benjamin Eakeley, Mamie Parris, Greg Jarrett (at piano), Justin Keyes, Alex Getlin, Javon E'Sean.
On this stage, perfectly lit by Jacob Zadek, the company sings singly, in pairs, trios, quartets, or in full, its costumes (elegantly designed by Melinda Hare) being either basic black, or a variety of character-defining garments, like a chef’s toque and apron, or pink, silk pajamas. Gerry McIntyre’s choreography is the ideal fillip for enriching the show’s visual charms with creative movement that adds immeasurably to the experience.  
Javon E'Sean, Justin Keyes.
From the get-go, the ensemble—Benjamin Eakeley, Jovan E’Sean, both tall and lanky, in contrast to the shorter Justin Keyes, the dark-haired Alex Getlin and the blonde Mamie Parris—grabs you with its charisma, intelligence, and vocal expertise, turning each number into a virtual show-stopper. (Both Keyes and Getlin were in the show’s 2017 premiere at the Triad, which included Broadway star Robert Cuccioli singing the songs now handled by Eakeley.)
Mamie Parris, Alex Getlin.

Benjamin Eakeley.
It’s a good thing the show keeps going, though, because you wouldn’t want to miss a single note or lyric, starting with the entire company singing the title song, an upbeat, comical lament about what actors have to endure.


Javon E'Sean, Mamie Parris, Justin Keyes.
From then on it’s a continual can-you-top-this sequence, ranging from Parris’s jazzing it up with a medley of “Shimmy Like They Do in Paree” (Death Takes a Holiday) and “I Want to Go to Hollywood” (Grand Hotel) to E’Sean’s lovingly sensitive “I Had a Dream about You” (December Song) to E’Sean, Getlin, and Keyes’s brilliant sendup of classical composers’ names, “I Don’t Want to Rock ‘n Roll,” to Eakeley’s teaching an infant in the soothing “New Words” (In the Beginning) to Parris and Getlin’s hilariously rambunctious “No Women in the Bible” (In the Beginning) to Getlin’s heartfelt “Strange” to the inspirational (if ironic) “Godspeed, Titanic,” with which the entire ensemble closes the show.
Javon E'Sean, Mamie Parris, Benjamin Eakeley, Alex Gitlen, Justin Keyes.
Yeston’s lyrics are often insanely clever. In “Salt ‘n Pepper,” for example, Keyes, dressed like a chef and pushing a small cart on wheels about, does a standout job of giving us knowing looks as he tosses off deliciously ribald, innuendo-enriched, food-related lyrics. But they’re also touchingly lyrical, as in “You’re There Too” (In the Beginning), sung by Keyes and E’Sean, and “Mississippi Moon,” soloed by Eakeley. 
Javon E'Sean, Alex Getlin, Benjamin Eakeley, Mamie Parris, Justin Keyes.
The title of Anything Can Happen in the Theater couldn’t be truer. I entered the theater only casually familiar with Maury Yeston’s music. I left it . . . I guess I have to say it . . . a fanboy. And I think you will, too.

York Theatre at St. Peter’s
619 Lexington Ave., NYC
Through December 29