Gretchen Reinhagen

March 20, 2014 | By | Add a Comment

Gretchen Reinhagen 2014 2Early in “Listen to the Music: The Songs of My 70’s” (directed by Barry Kleinbort) Gretchen Reinhagen notes that in the 1970s, various pop-music genres—rock, country, funk, disco, and so on—all competed for the public’s attention. In her program, she gives us samples from this bountiful and eclectic smorgasbord. But she doesn’t stop there. She also groups songs according to their subject matter: songs of spirituality and faith, sexy songs, songs about money, and so on. Her itinerary, consequently, seems more like the lecture notes of an ambitious socio-musicologist than a well-focused cabaret set list.

And it’s a personal show, too. This isn’t just the 1970s Reinhagen is giving us. It’s her 1970s. Reinhagen was born at the very beginning of the decade in question, so the music she performs was part of the soundtrack to her earliest formative years. She tells her audience about being a tomboy who loved to ramble around the family farm with her head full of dreams—and this becomes the setup for “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” (John Martin Sommers). Her reminiscences about her pony, Lucky, take us into Michael Martin Murphey and Larry Cansler’s equine-themed “Wildfire.”

There’s a lot going on here for an hour-long set, and Reinhagen spreads herself awfully thin.

Her song choices are not always perfect. Take “Wildfire,” for instance. It was obviously selected for its pony-related theme. But the steed from the song doesn’t seem to have much in common with young Reinhagen’s personal pet. Wildfire was a high-spirited mini-bronco capable of breaking down its stall. Lucky, in contrast, is described as a docile creature that waited patiently for little Gretchen to remount every time she tumbled to the ground.

Or consider the “sexy song” medley. Reinhagen begins with the randy but goofy “Afternoon Delight” (Bill Danoff), a big top-40 hit. Then she segues into “Arthur in the Afternoon” from the score of the Liza Minnelli Broadway vehicle The Act. True, both songs deal with midday dalliances, but musically they’re miles apart. “Delight” is a loping, country-ish bubblegum song while “Arthur” is a Kander & Ebb showstopper. The two selections don’t mesh well at all. (And though “Arthur” was written in the 1970s, I doubt that many people think of it  as a 1970s song.)

None of this quibbling means that there isn’t some fun and good musicianship going on in “Listen to the Music.” Reinhagen’s boisterous, belty voice is pleasing. And she is a personable, good-humored performer. Surprisingly, she comes off especially well singing music that would seem not to be in the musical comfort zone of a once-dream-besotted farm girl—notably her funky “money” medley, which consists of Pink Floyd’s rhythmically complex “Money” (Roger Waters) and Daryl Hall’s rambunctiously pulsing “Rich Girl.” In a quieter mode, she gives a tender rendition of “If” (David Gates), one of the sweetest and melodically compelling pop songs of the 1970s.

Musical director and pianist Andrew Sotomayor leads a band featuring bassist Hilliard Greene and drummer Donna Kelly. Sotomayor harmonizes vocally with Reinhagen on several numbers, to good effect. I only wish he or Kleinbort or someone had helped her find a way to put a more personal spin on some of the songs she gives us. Her performances of “Joy to the World” (Hoyt Axton) and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (Paul Simon), for instance, sound more like ordinary “covers” than fresh interpretations.

“Listen to the Music: The Songs of My 70’s”
The Duplex  –  March 13, 15, 18, 23

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. In addition to reviewing for BistroAwards.com, he contributes regularly to theaterscene.net and clydefitchreport.com. Other reviews and articles have appeared in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

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