Walk On By
New Bacharach Revue is One Less Show to See
Confession: I have never liked Broadway revues. I know, I know – they’re hugely popular with a lot of audiences, although I can’t for the life of me figure out why. What would make a person pay top dollar for a show he could see for a few bucks in any number of cabarets throughout the city? I can certainly see why producers like revues: with limited production costs and, in most cases, no need for “name” talent, they’re a reasonably good gamble in the dog-eat-dog world of the Great White Way. Trouble is, most of ‘em really stink. Sure, there are a few standouts, but for every long-running Smokey Joes Café, there’s a blink-and-you-missed-it Dream or Street Corner Symphony. Remember them? I didn’t think so.
I thought The Look of Love: The Songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David was going to be the show that converted me. I mean, “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Walk on By,” “One Less Bell to Answer,” “Close to You,” “Anyone Who Had a Heart”… these are first rate songs! As a longtime fan of Bacharach’s irresistible melodies and lush arrangements, as well as David’s frothy-yet-poignant lyrics, I was actually looking forward to The Look of Love. “After all,” I thought to myself, “how bad could a show based on such terrific, sophisticated music be?”
Pretty bad, as it turns out. Actually, “awful” would be a better fit. From casting to scenic design to costumes to – worst of all – orchestrations and arrangements, the show is a total misfire. What should have been a class act is instead unrefined and coarse. The overall effect is cheap, with a shoddy-looking steel and neon set and costumes that look like they were picked from the clearance rack at Le Chateau. And although Ann Reinking is listed as choreographer, from all appearances, she fulfilled her obligation over the phone.
The show’s biggest problem, though, is that nobody involved seems to have any faith in the material; a shame, really, since the music is all The Look of Love has going for it in the first place. Classic arrangements have been cast aside in favor of radical new interpretations seemingly created without any consideration of the lyrics. This is particularly evident in a doo-wop/jazz version of “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” and a bump-and-grind (and utterly distasteful) tango version of “What’s New Pussycat” that, to put it politely, borrows a great deal from the moves going on at the Kit Kat Klub up the street in Cabaret. As I overheard one audience member put it, “How do you screw up ‘Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa?’” It’s a reasonable question, I think, given the brutal massacring of that particular song, which we’d just witnessed.
Making matters worse, the cast alternates capriciously between sincerity and sarcasm in their performances, giving the show a decidedly schizophrenic feel. Again, it’s as if they don’t trust the songs as they are. Boy-band and pop-diva vocalizations abound. The performers’ attempts to add a little “something special” of their own to the numbers comes across as misguided, if not downright arrogant; most of them probably weren’t even born when these classics were written. Janine LaManna regrettably injects a sort of psychotic cynicism into “You’ll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart). But that’s not as bad as when, during “Are You There (With Another Girl),” Capathia Jenkins, the show’s obligatory large, black “diva,” sings, “I hear the music comin’ outta your sorry-assed radio.” Excuse me??? Only Liz Callaway sings with any sort of conviction, but her earnestness only seems out of place given the frenetic action around her.
All the players, including Jonathan Dokuchitz, Kevin Ceballo, Eugene Fleming and Shannon Lewis, have serviceable, if not memorable, voices. But despite being a politically correct combination of ethnicities, body types, sexes (and, evidently, sexual orientations), they’re completely interchangeable; cheesy smiles permanently plastered onto otherwise expressionless faces. They just don’t seem to “get” what it is they’re singing. They could just as easily be singing “Memory,” or any other overwrought Broadway anthem.
Which is fine for shows like Phantom or Les Miz or Aida. But, we’re talking Bacharach here. Give me Dionne Warwick, or Marilyn McCoo, or The Carpenters. Heck, give me Elvis Costello. People who know what to do with such embarrassingly abundant material. As for The Look of Love, I say catch it (or the cheesy revue just like it) next time you take a trip on Royal Carribean or Atlantis. At least that way, you’ll have a nice boat ride to enjoy after suffering through the show.
(Appeared in Gay City News)