It Always Feels Like the World Is Ending

August 4, 2017 | By

It Always Feels Like the World Is Ending, a new revue that played recently at Don’t Tell Mama, celebrated the work of composer Benny Gammerman and lyricist Dylan Hartwell, both of whom appeared in the show along with Amanda Savan, Cortney Wolfson, Melissa Rose Hirsch, and Greg Sullivan.

As the title implies, most of the songs were about the trials, tribulations and woes of modern political, social, and personal life. The show’s opening was cute. Lights came up on Gammerman at the piano, as Hartwell rushed through the house stripping off his shirt and putting on another, saying he didn’t have time to do it offstage. (This odd and unnecessary bit of beefcake seemed out of place, especially with the tiresome, Pavlovian hoots and whistles from friends in the audience.) The female cast members then ran in one after another, each with a lame excuse for her tardiness. This all culminated in the rousing title number, handily setting up the theme of the evening. The second number, “Upside Down,” was sung well by Hartwell, but it basically reiterated the ideas of the opening. Neither the lyric nor the melody was inventive enough to warrant the repetition.

Gammerman contributed his thoughts on the oppression of everyday life with “Me I Drink,” an amusing idea that would have benefited from more complex lyrics and a more assured vocal. “Come Back to Bed” was a successful 21st century variation on Sondheim’s “Barcelona”—a morning-after tale with some sharp observations on the intrusion of texting in modern-day relationships, even when the two parties are in the same apartment. Sullivan and Savan were terrific as the tentative lovers. What could have been a charming, understated number, “I Could Like France,” was given an over-sung performance by Hirsch, who suffered from the modern curse of theatre singing: the belief that louder is better. Admittedly, the fault in this number, and elsewhere, probably rested more with the composer than the performer. We have reached a point where the big, blasted notes are right there in the sheet music.

Excerpts from two older shows were prominently featured. Alice, Wendy, Dorothy (in which the three literary heroines run a secret branch of the British government, sending troubled orphans to safety in Neverland and Oz in World War II before Germany attacked) provided “I Want to Be a Pirate,” a beautifully sung lament for Wendy; Savan proved to be the most natural singer of the lot. The women’s trio, “Wonderland, Neverland, Oz,” had somewhat prosy lyrics that became all but incomprehensible when sung in counterpoint. Wasteland, a post-apocalyptic musical, contributed two heavy-handed selections that sank under self-importance.

Wisely, the two best numbers of the night were saved for the end: “Almost Every Day,” a romantic duet between Hartwell and Sullivan, and “February Warm,” a folky gem about climate change, which Hartwell handled with gentle power.

Director Max Friedman kept things moving briskly, but his attempts at zany, hellzapoppin humor between songs seemed foreign to the performers; their delivery was forced when it should have been light. If successful, that humor would have been a refreshing break from the weight of most of the material. More attention could have been paid to microphone technique, and music stands were distractingly placed center stage, which made the stage seem even smaller than it is. How I long for the days when the songs in a revue were actually memorized!

There is promise evident in It Always Feels Like the World Is Ending. The songs that I liked, I liked a lot—there were just not enough of them.

Don’t Tell Mama  –  July 15, 16

Category: 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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