Adam Guettel, Tony Award-winning composer-lyricist of The Light in the Piazza and other musicals, stepped into 54 Below Feb. 19 for the first of seven performances (through Saturday, Feb. 23). Joined by singers Steven Pasquale and Whitney Bashor — and backed by a four-piece combo under the direction of Broadway favorite Kimberly Grigsby — Guettel proved once again just how unique his writing is.
The great hope, when attending a concert or cabaret by a composer, is twofold. You look forward to hearing favorite songs, ideally performed in a manner where they sound as good as (or better than) you remember. At the same time, you keenly hope that you will hear new songs from new shows — and that they will be as good as the ones from the composer's old shows. Guettel succeeds enormously here, on both counts. The songs from Piazza, Floyd Collins and Myths and Hymns retain their power, while five new songs from two upcoming shows make us eager to hear more.
The exciting news is that Millions appears to be nearing completion. Based on the 2004 film of the same title from British director Danny Boyle, the story tells of a seven-year-old who finds a bag of money and wants to do good with it. (The setting has been changed from Lancashire to Albuquerque, New Mexico.) Guettel sang four songs from the score, at least three of which — led by "Find Me" — are strong. The other new song of the evening — "There Go I," from Days of Wine and Roses — is on a level with the best of Piazza, demonstrating that Guettel is on the right track.
The composer does most of the singing, which is fine in that he is a natural performer. Bashor, who won a 2010 Barrymore Award for her performance in the Philadelphia production of Piazza, is on hand to sing two of Clara's songs from that musical along with Guettel's exuberant non-show song "Baby Moon." Pasquale created the role of Fabrizio in the Seattle premiere of Piazza; he missed out on New York, having been stolen away by TVs "Rescue Me." The evening's high spot — among several high spots — was Pasquale's emotional rendition of Piazza's "Il Mondo Era Vuoto."
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