“Take Me to the World”
Laurie Beechman Theatre – October 5, 12, 19
Of course I attend every show I see with the hope that it will be good. In the case of Kevin Dozier’s new offering, “Take Me to the World, which has moved to the Laurie Beechman Theatre following an acclaimed bow at Feinstein’s, I most especially harbored this wish. You see, since he made his New York debut at Don’t Tell Mama two years ago, Dozier’s work has been uneven. Or more precisely, the shows he did were uneven: some successful numbers, and perhaps an equal number of problematic ones. A few of the problems stemmed from infelicitous song choices, but more often it was the arrangements that did him in, arrangements that served neither the material nor Dozier’s sensibilities—indeed, they were so off-base that Dozier seemed to be focused on singing—or just getting through—the arrangement, rather than on interpreting the song. Now he is collaborating with director Lennie Watts and musical director Alex Rybeck, and it is with great pleasure that I can report that the singer, the song selections, and the arrangements are all in harmony, and Dozier is at last living up to the promise he displayed with the first song he sang on June 2, 2008.
This fine show contains one carryover from Dozier’s earlier presentations, and a comparison between it and one particular new number is illuminating. The carryover is Schmidt & Jones’s “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” from The Fantasticks, with an arrangement by Christopher Marlowe. The arrangement changes the meter of the song from the version we’re familiar with; one result is that the line “soon it’s gonna rain” becomes compressed into soonitsgonnarain (ditto with “then we’llletitrain”). The song is now jazzier and hipper, but it no longer has warmth: with no breathing space between these key words, it is not possible to imbue the lines with the emotional coloration intended by the writers and demanded by the lyric. What’s more, hip and jazzy are not what Dozier is about.
Contrast that with “Wonderful! Wonderful!” (Ben Raleigh, Sherman Edwards). This arrangement is also different from the familiar one, most strikingly in changing the sung lyric “wonderful, wonderful” to an extended single “wonderful.” However, notice that this device allows the singer to emphasize the wonderfulness of his love, so that in the hands of the right vocalist, it can actually enhance the song’s emotional impact. And with his warm baritone and emotional openness, Dozier is the right vocalist. Indeed, the entire arrangement and performance are a celebration of being in love. That’s how to put one’s stamp on a song and still remain true to the source material.
Dozier’s brings a sweetly innocent sense of wonder to Maltby & Shire’s “I Hear Bells,” he delivers a deeply committed interpretation of Sondheim’s “Take Me to the World” that swells from gentle to fervent, and his rendition of Noël Coward’s “Matelot” is touching and beautiful. The first few lines of “Sondheim’s “Another Hundred People” lead into his “So Many People,” with the melody and energy of the first song used in the instrumental accompaniment to underscore the passion of the second; a smart arrangement and a persuasive performance. The same musical and interpretive savvy are evident in a pairing of Irving Berlin’s “Always” and Jerry Herman’s “Time Heals Everything”: the arrangement and performance forge these polar opposites into a potent, cohesive expression.
Dozier imparts dignity and serenity to “I Believe” (Ervin Drake, Jimmy Shirl, Al Stillman, Irvin Graham), which goes a long way to counterbalancing the mawkishness of the lyric, and he has the good grace to sing it only once through. The night I saw the show, he got carried away in Lerner & Loewe’s “If Ever I Would Leave You,” with a couple of notes escaping his control—perhaps it was just the heat of the moment; however, there was nothing wrong with his rendition of the dear “What a Funny Boy He Is” (Alex Rybeck, Michael Stewart), which could be re-titled “What a Lovely Song It Is.” The closer, aptly, is John Bucchino’s celebration of life and existence, “This Moment”; like Dozier, it radiates benevolence.
The instrumental accompaniment is provided by Rybeck on piano, Jered Egan on bass, and John Redsecker on drums. Splendid musicians, all. With as much as is good in the show, it is still a bit too short. It could use not only additional minutes, but additional weight. But of course, too short is preferable to too long.
About the Author
Roy Sander has been covering cabaret and theatre for over thirty years. He’s written cabaret and theatre reviews, features, and commentary for seven print publications, most notably Back Stage, and for CitySearch on the Internet. He covered cabaret monthly on “New York Theatre Review” on PBS TV, and cabaret and theatre weekly on WLIM-FM radio. He was twice a guest instructor at the London School of Musical Theatre. A critic for BistroAwards.com, he is also the site’s Reviews Editor; in addition, he is Chairman of the Advisory Board of MAC.