Club Review: “If It Only Even Runs a Minute — Celebrates the Underappreciated Musicals of Hal Prince”

October 31, 2021 | By | Add a Comment

Harold Prince

If It Only Even Runs a Minute, which recently returned to Feinstein’s/ 54 Below, is the brainchild of Jennifer Ashley Tepper and Kevin Michael Murphy who serve as genial, enthusiastic, informative hosts for a show dedicated to samples from and stories about the flops of Broadway history.  It is not a new idea, but this show was a fast moving, highly enjoyable history lesson and considerably more satisfying than most.This edition of the series was a tribute to the non-blockbusters of producer-director Harold Prince. There were so many that the revue was divided into two shows, each with a memorably starry group of singers accompanied by the terrific music director Dan Garmon who can, on the basis of these shows, play anything, and play it well.

Jennifer Tepper

 

Nicely “illustrated” by photographs on screens to the right and left of the stage, the piece flies by with each half leaving the audience wanting more. Perhaps trying in some way to appear more sympathetic to the creators of the shows, the hosts returned again and again to the idea that the failures showed what adversity Prince faced, and how resilient he turned out to be after each one.  Tepper, especially, returned to this apologia again and again.  It was unnecessary and it became an irritating disruption.  But that is a minor complaint about a show that came across like a particularly joyous Ben Bagley album come to life. To put it another way, it was like the walls of Joe Allen’s had suddenly come to life.

Kevin M. Murphy

Richard Maltby

Richard Maltby proved once again to be a born storyteller and captivated with his tales of Prince and his adventures on Bob Merrill’s New Girl in Town before introducing his talented daughter, Charlotte Maltby,  to delight us with that show’s “On the Farm.”  Billy Stritch had a ball overdoing the corniness of “Artificial Flowers” (Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick from Tenderloin).  Emilie Battle raised the temperature in the room with her take on the sizzling “You’ve Got Possibilities” from It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman  (Charles Strouse, Lee Adams).  A Family Affair, from John Kander, James Goldman and William Goldman, provided two of the evening’s most winning moments: Jack Bowman’s spirited “Mamie in the Afternoon” an unexpected song that would grow up to be “Arthur in the Afternoon” when Kander partnered with a certain Mr. Ebb, and “Summer is Over” which, in Rita Gardner’s incandescent performance, became the heart of the first show.  A bit later, Molly Brown’s thrilling performance of “The Air Is Free” (Robert Nassif Lindsey from 3hree) became its soul.

Rita Gardner

Jim Walton

Jim Walton, from the original company of Merrily We Roll Along, was a captivating storyteller and a gentle reminder of the beauty and power of Stephen Sondheim’s score as he accompanied himself on “Good Thing Going.” The hosts followed the current trend (epitomized by the movie Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened) of blaming anyone and everyone, and especially the press, instead of blaming the main culprit, Prince himself, for its failure. I only mention this because it cast doubt on some of the other critical remarks about the shows featured.

 

The second show started with a true rarity from a prehistoric show by Stephen Sondheim entitled The Last Resorts which pre-dated West Side Story.  The song, “I Wouldn’t Change a Thing,” turned out to be a precursor of sorts for “What More Do I Need,” only this song was about a potential mate rather than New York City.  “Great Dane A Comin’” (Jay Gorney, Jean & Walter Kerr) was a wacky retelling of Hamlet, so funny and so wild that over anything else in either show, I longed to see the entire show of Touch and Go from which it came.

Richard Kind

An ensemble made up of Jay Armstrong Johnson, Vaibu Mohan, Lauren Marcus, Will Roland, and co-host Murphy was great in their “Weekend in the Country”-ish vocals and moves.  I guess it could be considered courageous to pick “Tire Tracks and Broken Hearts” rather than “No Matter What” for inclusion from Whistle Down the Wind (Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jim Steinman), but I prefer to say misguided. The heavy metal-skewed over-the-top performance by Megan Kane and Nick Martinez made me wonder if Webber was even in the room when the song was written.  The show closed, wonderfully, with Richard Kind telling a touching tale of his lifelong love of and relationship with Sondheim and then masterfully bringing the house down with his canny underplaying of the title song from Bounce.

This was the 19th edition of If It Only Even Runs a Minute, and I can only hope that there will be 19 more of this highly entertaining and informative series.

***

Presented at Feinstein’s/54 Below, Oct. 18, 2021—Part 1 at 7 pm; Part 2 at 9:45 pm.

 

Category: News / Reviews / Commentary, Reviews

About the Author ()

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”

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