By Steven Suskin
22 Jan 2012
The People in the Picture [Kritzerland KR 20020]
The 2010-11 Broadway musical season ended with a flourish. Or rather a reverse flourish, if that's the phrase you'd use to describe the trio Wonderland, Baby It's You! and The People in the Picture. The latter was surely the most forlorn Broadway musical of 2011.
Now we have in hand a CD of People in the Picture. I am always glad for CDs of Broadway musicals, even unsuccessful ones; where would we be without our original cast recordings of Mack & Mabel, Donnybrook and most especially Anyone Can Whistle? (You have no idea how difficult it was to come up with three random titles for this sentence; so many good/bad choices!)
|photo by Joan Marcus|
Which brings us in a roundabout way to the cast album of The People in the Picture. Try as I might to approach the score with an open mind, the songs keep reminding me of the show that opened last Tony Deadline Day at Studio 54: a wispy, Holocaust-themed song-and-dancer starring Donna Murphy as a doddering Jewish grandmother on the Upper West Side who was once a Yiddish theatre star in Warsaw. The show was filled with ghosts who sang, and danced, like they were in some Mel Brooks musical. I'm sure the creators were very much in earnest, and this CD might well appeal to listeners who have never seen the show. As I play it, though, I keep remembering how those numbers came across in the theatre. Unfair, perhaps, but lethal.
Ms. Murphy's performance was interesting, certainly; when she sings "Selective Memory," we can tell what they all must have hoped the show would be. And the team of Lewis J. Stadlen and Chip Zien is tasty despite being given Brooksian material and lousy songs.
For the record, co-composer Mike Stoller is the same Stoller who gave us "You Ain't Nothin' But a Hound Dog." His music for The People in the Picture sounds nothing like what he wrote with longtime partner Jerry Leiber for Elvis. But the main problem with the show — from my side of the aisle, at least — stemmed from the work of lyricist/librettist Iris Rainer Dart. Memorable, though, was the scene in which Ms. Murphy played the legendary Dybbuk in the style of Fanny Brice, surrounded by four dancing rabbis.
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