Twentieth Century Girl: The Lois Morton Songbook

October 28, 2013 | By

Don’t Tell Mama – June 8, 15; The Duplex – September 19; Don’t Tell Mama – December 8

Lois MortonLois Morton is an interesting and uncommonly gifted songwriter. If you heard only her comic pieces, you’d swear her birthparents were Tom Lehrer and Gilbert & Sullivan, and she the beneficiary of the mischievous wit of Lehrer and the tuneful, tongue-tripping technique of G&S. But then there are her ballads: Though I don’t know whether Lehrer has written any, there are, of course, many in the G&S canon; however, as lovely as those are, they don’t explore the emotional landscape as insightfully or cut as deep as Morton’s.

And there is her skill, her craftsmanship. Unlike too many other contemporary songwriters, she seldom resorts to repeating lyrics—and the rare instances in which she does are usually stylistically justified. It practically goes without saying that her rhymes are what they should be: rhymes, not merely assonance. (There is an exception: “craziest” is paired with a word that is not a perfect rhyme; however, the second word comes so refreshingly unexpectedly and appealingly, that delightfulness trumps orthodoxy.)

The revue “Twentieth Century Girl: The Lois Morton Songbook” gives us a good measure of her proficiency and range. Much of her funny material comments good-naturedly on contemporary trends and fads—for example, the show’s title song sings of the difficulty of keeping up with 21st Century developments (“I’m a whiz at typing, not at Skyping”). “The Cell Phone Song” laments the unavoidability of this ubiquitous communication device, and the MAC Award-nominated “The Diet Is Cast” bemoans the challenge of catering to dinner guests’ sundry dietary constraints and hang-ups. “Road Rage” recounts the perils of relying on a GPS—and in so doing delectably turns one word in the lyric into a yodel. Other songs are just fun—such as “Confessions of a Clutterholic,” which becomes charmingly double entendre. Only one song is sharply pointed: “Red, White & Blues” assails government encroachment on our freedom and privacy; it needs—and merits—further development.

Morton’s ballads show that she’s every bit as strong a writer of the heart as of the funny bone. Several of these songs artfully employ metaphor: The train in “Passing By” represents a life lived; in “Painted Canvas,” the act of painting is a metaphor for satisfying the expectations of others; and the boat in the poignant “The Boat of a Million Years” signifies the journey of life. “Stay a Little Longer” touchingly evokes the comfort of a remembered past. One song, “The Last Goodbye,” is not metaphoric; it is autobiographical—and it is emotionally a killer.

The winning players are Kim Grogg, Mary Lahti, Georga Osborne, Sidney Myer, and Morton, herself; under Lennie Watts’s direction, and with musical direction and piano accompaniment by the always-fine Paul Greenwood, they deliver spirited performances of the comic numbers and interpret the ballads with affecting sensitivity. The night I attended, a few spots were a bit rough around the edges, but it had been three months since their prior performance—and besides, Christ! there are a lot of words. Not every song may be a flawless diamond, but Morton is such a good songwriter that even her occasional cubic zirconia has plenty of sparkle.

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Roy Sander has been covering cabaret and theatre for over thirty years. He’s written cabaret and theatre reviews, features, and commentary for seven print publications, most notably Back Stage, and for CitySearch on the Internet. He covered cabaret monthly on “New York Theatre Review” on PBS TV, and cabaret and theatre weekly on WLIM-FM radio. He was twice a guest instructor at the London School of Musical Theatre. A critic for BistroAwards.com, he is also the site’s Reviews Editor; in addition, he is Chairman of the Advisory Board of MAC.

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