Rochelle Breyer Chamlin & Paul Chamlin
By Roy Sander
"All at Sea: Songs on the Theme of Water"
Don't Tell Mama: June 5, 13; Metropolitan Room: August 7
Over the past few years, pianist/singer Paul Chamlin and his wife, singer Rochelle Breyer Chamlin, have presented several shows, all of them entertaining and all of them marked by a far-reaching and resourceful eye for material and the warm luster of connubial affection. Their latest offering, "All At Sea: Songs on the Theme of Water," retains the qualities that made their earlier shows so appealing, plus—and it's a big plus—their artistry has reached a new level: their performance and their interpretations now bespeak greater assurance and authority.
As with their prior shows, this one has been directed by Teresa Fischer. Though oxymoronically the theme of water sounds dry, it turns out to be very satisfyingly fertile—thanks in no small measure to their already cited resourcefulness—awash with a generous array of emotional tones and musical styles.
One of the evening's highlights is a pairing of two traditional songs, "The Water Is Wide" and "Shenandoah." The Chamlins' ardent and lovely vocal does justice to Andrew Sotomayer's luscious arrangement; contributing to the glory of this number is bassist Geoff Morrow's beautiful bowing. (To the best of my recollection, this is the first of their shows to incorporate a bass. On top of its musical contributions, the addition of a bass helps give this family affair the look and feel of the professional production that it is.)
Severally and together, the pair scores solidly in a trio of songs about parting, all delicately infused with tristesse: "I Cover the Waterfront" (Johnny Green, Edward Heyman), "Red Sails in the Sunset" and "Harbor Lights" (both by Jimmy Kennedy and Hugh Williams). By contrast, their performance of "On the S.S. Bernard Cohn" (Burton Lane, Alan Jay Lerner) is nice and spunky, and a rhythmic rendition of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's "Under the Sea" is gleeful. Building from earnestly imploring to gospel revival and then some, their arrangement and vocal performance of Mort Dixon and Harry Woods's "River Stay 'Way from My Door" are both terrific.
Each turns in fine solo performances. Mrs. C delivers an exquisitely centered "How Deep Is the Ocean?" (Irving Berlin) and a superbly realized "A Ship Without a Sail" (Rodgers & Hart)—she and the song are as one. Mr. C breathes life into a couple of novelty numbers: Irving Berlin's "We Saw the Sea" and Harry Woods's "Paddlin' Madelin' Home"—so much life that they are not only charming, but also positively exhilarating. And his rendition of the Gershwins' "There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon for New York" is surprisingly effective. But I won't hold my breath 'til he's cast as Sportin' Life—although considering the [insert expletive] wrongheadedness on display in the current Broadway revival, who knows?
There's still some room for growth. While not a serious problem, a few of Mrs. C's gestures are not organic with her interpretation; they should be reconsidered or cut. (For example, with Arthur Hamilton's "Cry Me a River," she should drop the hand gesture accompanying "too plebeian" and not shrug between "now you say you're" and "sorry"—both gestures undercut the emotion in the lines.) On Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler's "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," some of Mr. C's line readings are a bit odd; I'm not sure what he was trying to convey. And once or twice he indicates an emotion with a too-obvious facial expression. Also, the eccentric vocal arrangement of "Moon River" (Johnny Mercer, Henry Mancini) deprives the song of its beloved, sweet melody. Finally, while there's far less of it than in previous shows, the mock comic dispute between the two of them should be eliminated entirely.
On the other hand, there's so much more that's really wonderful. For example, their treatment of Roger Miller's "River in the Rain," a combination of C&W and Hawaiian, is very pretty, and their final three numbers are all winners: a rollicking "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" (Frank Loesser); Noël Coward's "Sail Away," on which they manage to communicate the disappointment expressed in the lyric while still doing the song in a bright tempo; and "Sloop John B"—with maracas and tambourine, it's a joyful way to end the evening.