ON THE RECORD: Rooms: A Rock Romance, Maria Friedman Sings the British Songbook, "Poetic License"

On the Record   ON THE RECORD: Rooms: A Rock Romance, Maria Friedman Sings the British Songbook, "Poetic License"
 
We listen to Paul Scott Goodman's Off-Broadway musical Rooms: A Rock Romance and Maria Friedman's cabaret act featuring the British songbook, and an poetry anthology featuring Broadway stars.
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ROOMS: A Rock Romance [Time Life 25455-D]
Rooms: A Rock Romance came to New World Stages on March 16, 2009, creating a moderate amount of excitement and earning some respectable words from reviewers (myself included). The March-April onslaught of new Broadway shows soon depleted the impact of Rooms; theatregoers suddenly had too many new shows to see, and publicity outlets — i.e. the dwindling number of newspaper and magazine pages devoted to theatre news — understandably concentrated on the big shows with stars and substantial advertising budgets. Rooms lasted but eight weeks, closing May 10.

This was boy-meets-girl, Scottish punk rock style. (Don't let that scare you away.) Composer-lyricist Paul Scott Goodman was heard locally in 1999 with Bright Lights, Big City, which was staged at the New York Theater Workshop with high expectations. Like, this was going to be the next Rent. But it wasn't. His subsequent Off-Broadway musical told of a poor Catholic boy from the Glasgow slums and a rich "Scottish Jewish Princess" from the moneyed section of town. Naturally, they join up to write songs commissioned for Bar Mitzvahs. (This results in a very funny and rude one, by the way.) Winning a talent contest, they brave London, earning a punk recording contract under the names Lillian Filth and Perry Comatose. A number one hit takes them on tour to CBGB in New York; here, in short order, the mismatched pair quickly become lovers while the boy's alcoholism implodes. When he misses an important booking, she leaves him flat. And then the typical stuff happens. You can figure it out, no doubt. But it all winds up in a happily hopeful manner. You can figure it out, no doubt.

What matters, though, is the score. And the performances too, from Leslie Kritzer as the girl and Doug Kreeger as the boy off in his separate room. (The notion of lives lived in separate rooms, which gives the piece its title, was somewhat weak but effectively staged by Scott Schwartz.) But let's talk of the score. Punk rock influenced, yes; but this is a varied musical theatre score, with some fine work. To quote my opinion from last March, the songs "range from tender to tough, introspective to brash, and punk rock to good old show biz; the music is often inventive, and the lyrics are laced with delightful images." The CD gives us a chance, now, to listen to the score again, and I'm glad to say that it holds up. Let us expect that this will bring Rooms future productions, and launch it to a happy stock and amateur life. For small theatre groups wishing to do an intimate rock musical, Rooms is well worth investigating.

MARIA FRIEDMAN Celebrates the Great British Songbook [Sepia 8044]
The promotional material accompanying "Maria Friedman Celebrates the Great British Songbook" includes a newspaper quote calling Ms. Friedman "the greatest show singer of her generation." Don't know that I can ascribe to that, exactly. Let us assume the critic was referring to the greatest British show singer. Even in that case I can't really judge, as I haven't heard all the British show singers of her generation. I will say, though, that Ms. Friedman is probably the greatest British show singer of her generation whom I have heard. Which is a roundabout way, I suppose, of saying that Maria Friedman is top notch. I last heard her when she sang a Sondheim evening at the Carlyle in 2006, which was pretty convincing. The Sondheim connection is strong; Ms. Friedman first won me over with the British cast recording of Passion. Friedman's new CD is pulled from the Great British Songbook, with a bit of a wink. Noel Coward and Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lennon/McCartney and Leslie Bricusse, Henry Purcell's "Dido's Lament" (from 1689) and "A Long Way to Tipperary." No Arthur Sullivan or W.S. Gilbert, but the hidden bonus track is "Diamonds Are Forever"; I guess they were afraid to mention that one on the track list.

The thing is, Ms. Friedman does a fine job. "Maria Friedman Celebrates the Great British Songbook" — the first original recording from Sepia, the U.K. label which has brought us so many enjoyable reissues of pre-1960 musicals and personality albums — gives us lots to enjoy. The program was devised by Friedman, musical director Jason Carr and Neil Marcus for the Feinstein's at the Shaw season, at the Shaw Theatre, in February 2009. Sepia brought Freidman and Carr — along with three additional musicians and no less than 13 vocalists — into the studio, and the results are very pleasing indeed. But us New Yorkers might well ask, when you comin' back, Maria Friedman?

POETIC LICENSE: 100 Poems 100 Performers [GPR]
April is, of course, National Poetry Month. Or didn't we know that? Whatever. In celebration of such, a new record label has brought us a collection of more than 100 poems. (Two of the three principals in GPR are composer Glen Roven, who got his start hereabouts as conductor of the original Broadway production of Sugar Babies, and veteran sound designer Peter Fitzgerald.) No music here, but plenty of Broadway voices. Some of them, in A to Z order: Jason Alexander, Nancy Anderson, Christine Baranski, Brent Barrett, Charles Busch, Danny Burstein, Zoe Caldwell, Ann Hampton Calloway, Len Cariou, Veanne Cox, Tyne Daly, Melissa Errico, Penny Fuller, David Garrison, Joanna Gleason, Harriet Harris, Florence Henderson, George S. Irving, Dana Ivey, Greg Jbara, Moises Kauffman, Judy Kaye, Marc Kudish, Patti LuPone, Rececca Luker, Cynthia Nixon, Michele Pawk, Alice Playten, John Rubinstein, Michael Rupert, Chris Sarandon, Emily Skinner, Douglas Sills, Carole Shelley, Bobby Steggart, Richard Thomas, Kathleen Turner, Harriet Walter, Tony Walton, Chip Zien, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Louis Zorich. Imagine the musical you could put on with that group. (Steven Suskin is author of the recently released updated and expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)

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