OPPOSITE YOU [PS Classics PS-536]
Joining two of the more accomplished musical theatre singers of today in an album of duets, in itself, is not necessarily a recipe for success. Even if the two singers in question are well suited; even if the two singers are married; even if the two singers are married to each other.
We have no qualms over the selection of this pair. Marin Mazzie has proven herself time and again, with her stunning portrayal of Clara in Passion; a rock-solid performance that held together the pieces of the sprawling Ragtime; and an unexpectedly comic turn as the spitfire shrew in the revival of Kiss Me, Kate. Jason Danieley is less known, perhaps, but a standout talent. Broadway credits include the title role in the most recent revival of Candide and as Malcolm, one of the Full Monty misfits; he was also especially strong in Floyd Collins.
Put them together and what do you get? Happily, the somewhat dissimilar talents mesh in places and complement each other elsewhere. That they are a married Broadway couple singing Broadway duets is beside the point. The test of albums of this type, where accomplished singers perform songs that we've heard perhaps hundreds of times, is simple enough: How do the renditions compare?
Very well, I am glad to report. After a perfectly entertaining "Honeysuckle Rose," Mazzie and Danieley give us a fine Arlen medley, incorporating "Come Rain or Come Shine," "When the Sun Comes Out," "Stormy Weather" and "That Old Black Magic."
Irving Berlin's three counterpart duets (written over 50 years) are an obvious choice for an album of Broadway duets, but I don't know that anyone has ever thought of doing "Simple Melody," "You're Just in Love" and "Old Fashioned Wedding" as a medley. Good idea, entertainingly done. Danieley gives us what might be the finest "I Won't Send Roses" we've heard. There are also several new or little-known tracks, the strongest being "A Sorta Love Song" and "The Natural Order" (both by Scott Burkell and Paul Loesel). Ragtime's Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens have provided the album's title song, "Opposite You," while Terrence McNally (of Ragtime and Monty) has provided a highly appreciative and apt essay.
With everything sounding so good, credit must go to musical director/arranger David Loud, who also provided the spare but highly effective orchestration for "I Won't Send Roses." Half the tracks are accompanied by a small orchestra. Orchestrator Larry Hochman does well by the Arlen songs, with other charts from William David Brohn, Joseph Thalken and Christopher Jahnke.
Why we often seem to end up with Sondheim, I don't know, but here he is again. The couple combine for an exquisite "Happiness" (which Mazzie introduced in Passion), followed by pretty much perfect renditions of "Good Thing Going" (Danieley) and "Not a Day Goes On" (Mazzie, and mighty powerful). "Opposite You" is the name of the CD, from the Danieleys.
VIRTUE IN DANGER [Must Close Saturday MCSR 3027]
London's out-of-the-way Mermaid Theatre opened in 1959 with Laurie Johnson and Lionel Bart's rollicking Lock up Your Daughters (from Henry Fielding's 1730 comedy Rape for Rape). The show proved a huge success, transferring to the West End for a long and happy run. Why not try another Restoration musical the Mermaid seems to have asked? Virtue in Danger, based on Sir John Vanbrugh's 1696 comedy The Relapse, was the result. The show opened at the Mermaid in 1963, although its West End transfer proved a dud and was quickly forgotten.
Must Close Saturday, the British label that has favored us with a number of forgotten-but-important cast albums, has now brought us Virtue in Danger. I suppose I'd like to like it more than I do. It has several things to recommend it, starting with Patricia Routledge. The score has something of the same feel as similarly-set musicals like Lock up Your Daughters, All in Love and Man with a Load of Mischief, but it lacks the boisterousness of the first, the bounce of the second or the strong ballads of the third.
The score comes from lyricist Paul Dehn, at the time a London film critic, and composer James Bernard, best known for a series of soundtracks for horror films. From Bernard's liner-note bio: "His composition Virtue in Danger was interrupted but (he hopes) not influenced by an urgent demand from Hammer Horror Films to provide a score for their 'Kiss of the Vampire.'"
The work is fun, although the lyricist seems way too eager to use "racy" words of olden days. The song titles "Fortune, Thou Art a Bitch!" and "Stand Back Old Sodom!" will give you an idea; the exclamation marks are from the authors, not me. And some of the tunes grow highly repetitious. Still in all, Virtue in Danger is interesting and listenable, with Ms. Routledge glimmering (as usual) in her four tracks. So you might want to give it a try.
—Steven Suskin, author of the forthcoming "Second Act Trouble" [Applause Books], "A Must See! Brilliant Broadway Artwork," the "Broadway Yearbook" series, "Show Tunes," and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He can be reached by e-mail at Ssuskin@aol.com.