Paul Chamlin and Rochelle Breyer Chamlin
Right at the top of Paul Chamlin and Rochelle Breyer Chamlin’s new Jule Styne tribute show, “Gems by Jule,” at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, the performers set up the personas that will carry them through the evening. They start out musically with a Fanny Brice / Nick Arnstein duet from Funny Girl, “I Want to Be Seen With You Tonight” (lyric by Bob Merrill). Chamlin, who performs from behind the piano, is the sweet-talking romancer, a courtly lover with carefully manicured vocal phrasings. Breyer Chamlin is a skeptic and pragmatist who gently derides her partner’s fancy romanticism with her plain-sung manner and no-nonsense humor. He finds the glamour in the evening, but she points out that the dreamy moon hangs pedestrianly “over mother’s saloon.” On their subsequent song, “Can’t You Just See Yourself in Love with Me?” (Sammy Cahn) from High Button Shoes, the Chamlins solidify the nature of their onstage relationship. “Can’t you just see yourself in a gingham gown / Little pink ribbons tied in your hair…?” he asks. The bemused-feminist glance she throws back at him provokes instant laughter from the audience.
The Chamlins are, in short, a likable pair, and their easygoing rapport with each other and with the audience puts listeners right in their corner. Their rather spare between-song banter occasionally veers toward the personal, but mostly it allows them to share with the audience their appreciation of the Styne catalogue. There are, however, no long and winding anecdotes from the life of the composer. These singers pay tribute mostly via the music itself.
They sing some of Styne’s most familiar and enduring songs, including “Time After Time,” “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” and the Oscar-winning “Three Coins in the Fountain” (all Cahn), but it’s by no means a “Styne’s greatest hits” outing. Notably, only one song each from Gypsy and Funny Girl is heard during the program. It’s great to encounter some lesser-known Styne titles, especially the breezily humorous “Penniless Bums” (Merrill) from Sugar. The Chamlins even include a couple of decidedly second-string Styne/Cahn numbers from the 1949 Doris Day film It’s a Great Feeling: “Blame My Absent-Minded Heart” and “There’s Nothing Rougher than Love.” (Not every melody idea that you cultivate is going to come up roses, even when you’re Jule Styne.)
Directed by Teresa Fischer, the show provides a good mix of solos and duets. Sometimes the Chamlins sing to each other and sometimes they sing out toward the audience. Many songs (perhaps a few too many) are grouped in theme-related medleys.
Chamlin’s voice is a warm and polished baritone. During much of the set, Breyer Chamlin’s is steady, centered and deep; her conversational approach on a lot of the material reminded me frequently of the understated (and underrated) singing of Carol Burnett. But Breyer Chamlin also has a sweet and operetta-ish upper register at her disposal, which she brings pleasingly into the mix at times. She puts it to especially good use on the jokey novelty song “I Said No” (Frank Loesser). The blend of the Chamlins’ voices works well most of the time, but occasionally the harmonizing seems a bit unsteady, with the melody getting buried somewhere under a heavy blanket of harmony. Chamlin’s piano work is alternately robust and sprightly, as the songs dictate.
My favorite number of Chamlin’s is his vocally virile turn on “Every Street’s a Boulevard in Old New York” (Bob Hilliard), while Breyer Chamlin’s standout is an openhearted but schmaltz-free “Neverland” (Comden & Green) from Peter Pan. As for their duets, a definite high point is the quite ingenious quodlibet, fashioned by Chamlin, pairing “There Never Was a Baby Like My Baby” (Comden & Green) with “Bye Bye Baby” (Leo Robin). This “mash-up” won a rousing hand from the audience on opening night.
I only wish there were a few more high points in the program—and I believe there could be. The show now is enjoyably pleasant but it could stand more sparkle and energy, perhaps a few elements of surprise. I wish for the Chamlins the opportunity to perform “Gems by Jule” many more times: to tighten it, heighten it, and become more secure with the material. Because these songs really are jewels, and—those It’s a Great Feeling selections notwithstanding—I don’t mean rhinestones.
“Gems by Jule: Selections from the Jule Styne Songbook”
Laurie Beechman Theatre – June 1, 10
About the Author
Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. He began writing reviews for BistroAwards.com in 2011. More recently he has contributed "Cabaret Setlist" articles about cabaret repertoire. Other reviews and articles have appeared in theaterscene.net and clydefitchreport.com, as well as in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival. He is currently literary manager for Broad Horizons Theatre Company.