Maureen Taylor

January 5, 2020 | By | Add a Comment

With her lilting voice and sunny stage presence, Maureen Taylor puts the cabaret listener in a receptive frame of mind, whatever she is singing. In her recent show at Don’t Tell Mama, Cosmic Connections: The Lyrics of Michael Colby (directed by Frank Galgano), she performed songs with varying colors and moods, but with an overarching feeling of good will. Most, but not all, were co-written by Colby, who is known for his work in musical theatre (including the Drama Desk Award–nominated Charlotte Sweet), as well as for his memoir, The Algonquin Kid. (All songs mentioned here have lyrics by Colby unless otherwise noted.)

Taylor hails from the world of opera and has successfully modified her vocal style for a career in musical theatre and cabaret. At one point in the evening she suggested that her approach as a singer/actor is similar to that of Julie Andrews, which seems an accurate self-assessment. Clearly, she has a sturdy framework of vocal technique at the ready to take on most singing challenges—yet only occasionally does she remind us of the full power that’s waiting there to be unsheathed. One moment in which she did so was in her opening number, “More Than Meets the Eye” (music by John Introcaso), where, on the line “A he can be a she,” her voice glided up the scale on the word “she,” where she then blasted it like a Homeric siren guarding her island. Later, on “Keep It Low” (Gerald Jae Markoe), she executed what was perhaps meant to be a reverse version of the earlier effect: letting her voice slide dramatically down to the depths on the word “low.”

The singer is grounded—if that’s an apt word—in things paranormal. She claims to be versed in astrology, numerology and other paths to the unlocking of mysteries of the universe. At one point she called on an audience member, who volunteered that her favorite color was pink. This, Taylor explained, signified that the woman was a natural-born caregiver. The explanation of why this was so (which I didn’t grasp fully) had something to do with dolphins.

The reference to “cosmic connections” in the show’s title refers in particular to the striking coincidences she has found that link her life with Colby’s and that seem to have something supernatural about them. For instance, one of the lyricist’s favorite musicals is Applause, and Taylor just so happens to count Penny Fuller among her show-business mentors. (Fuller played the key role of Eve Harrington in the original production of the musical in 1970.)

Whether that coincidence qualifies as mystically harmonious is arguable, and some of the other connections Taylor cited seemed more tenuous still. And in mapping out all of these coincidences for the audience, she created a tangent-filled narrative that seemed at times unwieldy and confusing. For instance, after her performance of Charlotte Sweet’s “A Daughter of Valentine’s Day” (Markoe), for some reason she set off on what seemed a chronologically presented musical tour of holidays throughout the calendar year. Besides the Valentine’s Day number, however, the only other Colby songs she managed to find to celebrate holidays were ones appropriate for Easter and Christmas. (She did, however, include a bit about Champagne by Noël Coward to mark New Year’s Eve.)

Her use of patter was extensive. And she interspersed spoken monologue into the songs themselves with greater frequency than most singers do. She and Galgano might want to curtail that a bit if she revisits this show. It can be an effective practice, but sometimes listeners may want to hear the whole song without spoken interruption.

Colby has worked with many composers, and we heard songs from, by my count, ten of them. Not all the numbers made an equally favorable first impression, but I enjoyed such selections as “My Song” (Peter Millrose), about the importance of being heard and recognized for one’s art; the energetic “Takin’ on the Town” (Ned Ginsburg), which allowed Taylor to display her brassier side; and “A Little Love” (Artie Bressler), a likable and well-constructed song about New York City. At their best, Colby’s lyrics are marked by a direct and easygoing quality.

The non-Colby songs heard in the show had lyrics by Lorenz Hart, Lee Adams, and Carolyn Leigh. These numbers helped Taylor make her points about her friendship and personal collaborations with Colby, but, if this show was meant primarily as an occasion for paying tribute to Colby’s lyrics, the inclusion of such numbers was a bit iffy.

Musical director and pianist Matt Castle accompanied Taylor, and the two of then appeared to be simpatico throughout the evening. John Narun designed the production, which included projections giving the name of each song and its respective composer-collaborator as Taylor began singing it. This proved to be a useful innovation.

The show offered many fine moments and displayed Taylor’s talents well. With a few modifications, it could be even better.

Cosmic Connections: The Lyrics of Michael Colby
Don’t Tell Mama  –  December 21, 27, 28, 29

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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