Broadway Duets opened at Signature Theatre on June 7th, and I was fortunate to “experience” it on the third night of the show’s run. According to Director Matt Gardiner in his opening comments, they formulated the show’s conceptual framework a year ago and the difficult chore was selecting the songs. ‘Happy Days are Here Again’ because another success story has taken over Signature’s ARK Theatre through Saturday.
Twenty-three songs from twenty-three different shows comprise the eighty minutes. At the closing of the last song, you just wish it wouldn’t stop. Of course, a show at Signature could not be a show at Signature unless it had at least one selection from Stephen Sondheim and of course this show is no exception. For those in town who cannot get enough of his work with Follies now playing at the Kennedy Center and Side by Side by Sondheim at Signature’s MAX theatre – you will not be disappointed.
The stage set is fairly simple with a backdrop of silver tassels shimmering in the air conditioning, a piano on the far left side, chairs spread out on the stage for the four performers and lighting that is utilized to the fullest extent throughout the evening. The outstanding musical aspect of the show is the on-stage pianist – Howard Breitbart – who assumes the responsibility of solo musical accompanist with flair. If you close your eyes and listen, Howard brings the awesome tonality of each song providing the exact pianoforte and emotional content of what each performer’s musical lyrics are trying to reflect.
The four vocalists are well known to Signature fans: James Gardiner, Jake Odmark, Felicia Curry and Bayla Whitten. They switch in and out of their selections so adroitly; sometimes the two women sing, sometimes the two men, sometimes they all sing, but most are shared gender pair. And, they keep their “duet” commitment – all the songs are harmonized so if you are looking for beautiful “sharps and flats,” you have come to the right place.
The show opens up with a selection from Stephen Schwartz’s The Magic Show and ends with a piece from Hairspray… an obvious plug for one of the shows on Signature’s 2012 season. The song that received the most enthusiastic audience response was “Temp and the Receptionist” from Homemade Fusion. Pay special attention as you watch and listen to this 19th selection of your cabaret evening performed by Felicia and James. Another highlight in the earlier part of the show was Funny Girl sung by Bayla and Jake. The performance is not just singing. At various times between songs, actors take turns of providing narratives which provide segues for connecting the evening’s selections.
A special mention goes to the director Matt Gardiner, who also directed Signature production of Side by Side by Sondheim. He has the uncanny ability of encouraging actors to complement their words with hand gestures, facial expressions and their eyes that add so much animation to the evening’s emotional roller-coaster. You have a much better understanding of the song’s objectives if you take note of these directed movements. As Matt stated during the show’s opening, 50% of duets are relationship/love songs and a good majority of duets fall into the “kick your a*s” category. And, I emphatically state, if you don’t get tickets to see Broadway Duets, you may be kicking your own a*s.
Broadway Duets is produced by the Signature Theatre and plays through June 11th at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA. For tickets call (703) 820-9771, or purchase them online. Running time is about 80 minutes with no intermission.