ON THE RECORD: Ebersole and Stritch Celebrate "Sunday in New York," Durang Is Adrift in Macao | Playbill

News ON THE RECORD: Ebersole and Stritch Celebrate "Sunday in New York," Durang Is Adrift in Macao
This week's column discusses Christine Ebersole and Billy Stritch's nightclub act transformed to CD, under the title "Sunday in New York," and the original cast album of the 2007 film noir spoof Adrift in Macao.


SUNDAY IN NEW YORK [Ghostlight 8-3310]
Christine Ebersole and Billy Stritch come out a-swinging on "Sunday in New York," their new CD, and hardly ever let up. An irrepressible ride they give us, and one that'll brighten both your sun days and those with a few clouds in the skies. Ebersole and Stritch first joined together while pounding the beat of 42nd Street. 42nd Street the revival, that is, where Stritch served as onstage accompanist to Ebersole's Dorothy Brock way back in 2001. Ms. Ebersole took her first Tony Award, which by now has expanded to two (and deservedly so) thanks to her little performance in Grey Gardens. But all through the decade, it seems, Christine and Billy have found time to ply their wares, turning up anyplace they could find a tuned piano.

"Sunday in New York" has something of a '50s feel to it, at least in terms of the cover art (with Ebersole in strapless white gown atop a grand while Stritch sits at the keys — both of them sporting a full mouth of impossibly pearly whites). The CD more or less follows the show the pair presented in 2007 at the Metropolitan Room, and quite a set it is.

Things get off to a fast start with "Haven't Got a Worry" (by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, from the 1953 movie "The Stars Are Singing") and "Sunday in New York" (by Carroll Coates and Peter Nero, written for the 1962 film version of the Broadway comedy). Next come a fast-paced "My Favorite Things," which is very good, followed by a nifty "Surrey with the Fringe on Top." A change of pace is offered in "So Many People," and it makes that early Sondheim tune from Saturday Night sound exceptionally good. Stritch — who does a considerable amount of singing on the CD — gives us "Give Me the Simple Life" combined with "Tea for Two." "Tea for Two" we are familiar with, especially those who caught Nanette at Encores recently, but Rube Bloom's "Give Me the Simple Life" is one of those wonderful songs we rarely hear and can't get enough of.

I needn't step through each and every song, but I can't see clear to leave out any of my favorite tracks (of which there are way too many). There's a wild '40s-era mix of "Hit That Jive, Jack" (Johnny Alston-Skeets Tolbert) and Nat King Cole's "Errand Girl for Rhythm"; a deliciously mellow "Walkin' in New York" (by Brenda Russell, one of the Color Purple songwriters); and renditions of "Lullaby of Broadway" (from 42nd Street) and "Will You?" (from Grey Gardens). Not to mention an especially special setting of Sondheim's "Not While I'm Around." Is Ms. Ebersole on tap to come out and play Mrs. Lovett in the 2014 revival of you know what? Without tuba, hopefully.

Musical comedy spoofs can be treacherous. The line between what is funny and what is not is highly personal, of course, and there are always bound to be a few who hate a show that everybody else loves and vice versa. But generally these things either work or they don't; if not, they can come across as resolutely unfunny. Which is my reaction to the original cast album of Christopher Durang and Peter Melnick's Adrift in Macao.

A woman stranded in a foreign city hails a rickshaw. "I'm Rick Shaw," says a passerby. If this strikes you as the height of hilarity — and if, further, you like the notion of a mysterious villain called Mr. McGuffin and an inscrutable fellow called Tempura (because he has been "battered by life") who steps out in the second act to sing "I'm Actually Irish" — then you might well like this adrift little musical. But Dames at Sea or City of Angels it isn't, and not for lack of trying. Film noir, in this case, becomes musical mud.

The trouble here seems to stem from Mr. Durang, who has a specialized talent for offbeat humor. His book, here, didn't work when the show was on brief display at 59E59 in February 2007, and his lyrics reach for laughs which don't seem to land. Again and again and again. It is more difficult to judge the music by Mr. Melnick, which sounds like it might be rather attractive in a comic-musical-comedy style were it not for the lyrics he is forced to carry. As it is, a couple of tunes — "Sparks" and "Adrift in Macao" — are rather pleasing, and the rest of the music generally brings a smile to the ears. (Michael Starobin brings a sense of fun to the five-piece orchestration, which has been slightly expanded by Melnick for the recording.) And the performers, led by Alan Campbell and Rachel de Benedet, do their utmost under the circumstances.

But if it ain't funny — and to me, it ain't funny — then it ain't funny. Mr. Durang's liner notes inform us of Mr. Melnick's lineage, which is to say that his grandfather wrote South Pacific and his cousin wrote A Light in the Piazza. One can't quite tell whether he is likely to follow in the family footsteps, although he seems clearly to have a musical sense of humor. Of course, Durang might well have added Melnick's other familial Broadway credit: his father produced Kelly, which is the stuff of legends.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Second Act Trouble," "Show Tunes" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. Past On the Record columns are archived in the Features section of Playbill.com. Suskin can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com)

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