Bernstein on BroadwayWho Rarely Done Productions Where 441 E. Washington St., Syracuse When Through Dec. 8 Tickets $20 Review by Josh Austin
For a theater buff, watching the jaunty excursion of a Leonard Bernstein revue is dazzling. From West Side Story to Wonderful Town, the esteemed composer’s passionate notions are still dizzying and heartfelt.
But don’t fret. For those who may not be drawn to a musical history lesson about Bernstein, the revue still contains a strong, albeit occasionally impromptu, narrative. With a touch from director Dan Tursi and Rarely Done Productions, the characteristic songs of Bernstein remain, just with an added sprinkle of oddity.
For two nights only, Rarely Done is putting on Bernstein on Broadway, a conflicted accolade to the late, loved composer. It’s a packed revue that gives the audience an historical high-note taste of some of the best, and dreadful, productions to come from the Broadway legend.
With a cast of nine, and Tursi as narrator, the whimsical songs of the musician are nicely taken advantage of. With many high points in the production, the show occasionally feels slightly empty. A few flubbed notes and missed lyrics throw a tiny shadow on the grandiose moments of the songs, but this cast comes back with an overall sincere performance.
Led with the dry-wit, humorous Tursi, the narration for the show is a segmented, interesting “for your information” concept. For instance, did you know that West Side Story was originally based on a Jewish boy and a Catholic girl? Tursi helms the show with a knowledgeable intensity that is complemented with the light-hearted ensemble.
The first act is a spirited, abbreviated glimpse at some of Bernstein’s noted works. Including On The Town, Peter Pan, Wonderful Town and West Side Story, the first act is filled with songs that are tenderly remembered. The ensemble plows through the first act with a powerful gusto, making each song a remarkable rendition. With Carolyn Belknap, Bethany Daniluk and Rita Worlock displaying three different Wendys, from Peter Pan, each song was a beautiful interpretation of the childhood fantasy.
Yet, interesting renditions is exactly what Rarely Done does. In fact, the in-drag ode to “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story was a jarring, well-performed number led by Joshua Smith as Maria. Adorned in wigs, three men flamboyantly flounced about the stage with the up most respect, sort of, to the nature of the number.
Peter Irwin delivered a passionate “Maria.” Although, it’s not until he begins to belt, that his voice becomes a highlight.
The second act feels like a completely different program. Not because of the cast, but because of the songs. It features four more, lesser-known (perhaps, way lesser-known) productions. Songs from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, The Madwoman of Central Park West, The Mass and Candide are performed with a delicate manner.
The flop 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue ran on Broadway for a mere seven performances, but the song “Take Care of This House” was nicely ushered by Irwin. With a critically resounding thud for the musical, it’s interestingly enough considered one his most classical works for Broadway.
Worlock gave a beautiful performance with an infectious soprano vibrato in the song “My New Friends,” from The Madwoman. Worlock’s voice, sometimes overpowering, flawlessly spoke to the troubled woman’s life.
Rounding out the show was a snippet of Bernstein’s mess Candide. The final segment was comedic and truly light-hearted, capturing the best of the ensemble and showing off incredible voices, such as Ben Wells’ supreme tenor.
Leaving the audience with “Make Our Garden Grow,” an impressive choral chaser to the depressingly funny songs beforehand, it’s not hard to see why Bernstein is such an icon. Showcasing him at his best—and worst, although still entertaining—the ensemble of nine pulled off a daunting feat: performing various, challenging Bernstein works, and like their predecessors, as noted from failed shows, this time they did it well.