Theatre Revue: “Notes from Now—Songs of Resilience & Renewal”
The new revue, recently presented at 59E59 Theaters, Notes from Now—Songs of Resilience & Renewal is, like most revues, a hit-and-miss affair, but when it hits, it is very, very good. It features mostly newly commissioned original songs by contemporary musical theatre writers.
The show opens with Adam Gwon’s “Don’t Swat the Bee,” which touches on climate change and potential global disaster in a cute, catchy way, sung by most of the company but grounded and led by the ingratiating John Yi. Next is a contribution by the great Jeff Blumenkrantz entitled “Ovid” which is an ode to sourdough starters hilariously delivered by the night’s stand-out star, Josh Lamon. Any time Lamon is on stage, the show and the audience are better for it. “Mr. What’s-Your-Name” (Paula K. Tiról) is a funny, inventive, and ultimately touching treatise on virtual schooling in the time of COVID. Thani Brant, Darron Hayes and Yi remain believable playing much younger than their actual ages without devolving into cringe-worthy overindulgence. Gretchen Cryer’s “Still Got a Hold on Me” affords Judy McLane the opportunity to dazzle with her country blues/legit hybrid.
Quarantine and lockdown set the stage for “The Lights in the Kitchen” (Masi Asare) in which two housemates vie for time in the room with the most flattering lighting for Zoom meetings. Yi’s and Ashley Blanchet’s playful antagonism is very funny. Brant and talented understudy Genesis Adelia Collado shine in “Craving You” (Jay Adana), a tale of lovers who only know each other virtually and long for physical contact. “The Little Things Lost” (Derrick Byars, Tia DeShazar) is a tender reflection on the tiny tragedies that can easily be overlooked in a time of pandemic. The theme of loss and memory and reconciliation continues with “Under the Snow” (Jaime Lozano, Georgie Castilla) beautifully delivered by Collado.
Up to this point the show has been terrific—inventively directed and choreographed by Billy Bustamante and beautifully played by a six-piece band led by pianist Sean Peter Forte, with Suzy Perelman on violin, Matt Sangiovanni on guitar, Marc Schmied on bass, Jessica Wang on cello, and Brandon Wong on drums. And then…
The entire thing is derailed by a pack of polar bears. In “Polarized” (Peter Mills), most of the company is forced to don white polar bear caps with “cute” ears and act out a tale of melting ice caps, distrust, and political allegory of the treacly variety that makes teeth ache when they are not grinding. One after another the big and important numbers pile on until the whole thing feels like a lame road company of Godspell. What a waste!
The one saving grace of the second half is Lamon who dazzles with his impassioned love for musical theatre with “Coming Back to You” (Peter Mills) about getting back to Broadway after the pandemic. But even his star turn is not enough to salvage the shambles the show has become.
The set shares the show’s schizophrenia. There are large, curved blocks ingeniously rearranged to become a kitchen, a living room, a podium, or whatever locations the songs require. But above the blocks and intrusively hanging down are blossoms…tons of blossoms…bearing no relation to the material until the final song. But no amount of flora could save “Bloom” which has a generic melody by Stephen Schwartz and trite lyrics by Alexandra Elle. It turns out, on top of that, the song is a cheat; it was commissioned by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and shared for this production. Bustamante’s direction suffers in the same way; the light, smart touch of the first half became obvious and plodding in the second. The subtle and witty observations become heavy-handed preachiness.
Rather than “songs of resilience & renewal,” Notes from Now becomes, in the end, songs of promise & disappointment.
Presented by Prospect Theater Company at 59E59 Theaters, March 2-20.
About the Author
Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”