ON THE RECORD: Brian Stokes Mitchell, LaChanze and More Celebrate Ahrens and Flaherty in Starry Recording of Nice Fighting You

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13 Jul 2014

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Cover art

This week's column looks at Nice Fighting You, a celebration of work by award-winning composers Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty


With the approach of their 30th anniversary as a songwriting team — and with two major, big-budget musicals scheduled for 2014 — Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty decided a celebration was in order, so they booked themselves into 54 Below for a weekend September 2013 and invited a few friends to drop by to sing assorted Ahrens and Flaherty songs.

This casual-sounding plan grew overstuffed; it turns out that Ahrens and Flaherty have an awful lot of friends, and they all were thrilled to get in on the party. The typical 54 Below act, booked in for a few nights, might include two or three singers and a dozen songs. Nice Fighting You (the title borrowed from a lyric in Lucky Stiff, the delicious Off-Broadway musical with which the pair marked their mainstream debut) played six performances over three nights. The guests ballooned to a total of 17, all but five with Tony nominations and/or wins. The bill also included the songwriters, who did some talking and a little singing, and a very busy band of five led by Ted Sperling. The talent was warehoused, if you will, with a different assortment at each sitting; some of the performers rushed over during four-show weekends for the 11 PM sets. Instead of a 12 or 14-song Ahrens and Flaherty sampler for this party, someone attending all six performances would have heard three dozen.

Nobody, one imagines, sat through all six sessions; I, myself, attended the second — which included Flaherty himself, singing and acting — and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. The good folks at Broadway Records, though, recorded the whole thing and collated it into two discs containing 48 tracks (introductions included). Nice Fighting You can be described as pure joy. I have appreciated the work of this pair since discovering Lucky Stiff; anyone who can write musical comedy songs like that is OK in my book. While I haven't been exactly enamored of every show they've written, I am highly appreciate of most of the scores. Listening to Nice Fighting You, you are likely to be surprised by the parade of wonderful numbers. You hear selections from Once on This Island or Seussical, say, and think: yes, these songs are good!

The album starts off with a charming Ahrens and Flaherty welcome, after which Liz Callaway inaugurates this journey to the past with the Oscar-nominated "Journey to the Past," which she introduced in the animated 1997 film "Anastasia." On comes LaChanze, recreating "Waiting for Life" from Once on this Island.


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