Our Table – Broadway Records

Composed by David Shire

Lyrics & Book by Adam Gopnik

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Essentially an unabridged performance of the Musical-Comedy, this live concert recording of David Shire’s Our Table is a rising taste sensation across America. The story of a much-beloved New York restaurant which fights for its life during financial uncertainty is painfully relatable across industries right now. Recorded live on a January evening, in the company of fans, friends and Rob Schneider at Manhattan’s sensational new writing and musical venue Feinstein’s/54 Below – this cast recording enables all of those who find themselves without reservations to take a place at the table.

Everyone’s got one, a local restaurant, not a chain, something family-run that doesn’t pander to ‘green’ pizzas, espresso bars and specialised cheeses – yet. TABLE is one such place, run by husband and wife duo chef David and host Claire, with their two kids Bix and Katie. It’s a small-time business, but it’s theirs, and David will do everything he can to maintain this, even at the unknowing cost of his marriage. Desperately seeking aid, David turns to Sergio, a talented chef turned television personality who has placed down his spatula and picked up a marketing gig –the issue is that Sergio only has eyes for reigniting a past romance with Claire.

Adam Gopnik’s lyrics divide the album, composition overarches as an engaging jazz album, with spatters of a traditional musical theatre format. It all sounds marvellous against the 54 Below walls, and the natural tones of vocals may be less than pitch-perfect but have a believability to the unpolished performance. Lyrically this division happens when exposition overcomplicates the narrative. Melissa Errico and Andy Taylor bring a performance element to their vocals as David and Claire, but the script offers little in the way of interaction for the two outside their duet performance Chopping Onions.

Espresso, however, is a pure musical theatre number, expanding on a character and their traits without painting it out by number and verse. Humorous, with nifty lyrics, and a building score which compliments the caffeinated subject matter, while the rest of the cast are having decaf, Mark Nelson is full of vim and vigour. The cast recording capitalises on the liveness of the recording, bouncing off of Shire’s arrangements and excelling at putting the instrumentals to the forefront, greatly accentuating jazz numbers like A Slice of LifeEveryday Dance or Take My Life.

Glaringly, as Our Table looks to the future of small, independent restaurants and family businesses across New York – it inadvertently subverts its primary narrative with a superior one following the love story between Anna and Bix and their ‘green pizzas’. There’s tangible chemistry noted with the pair throughout the album, shifting from the broken, awkward vocals into a powerful rendition of growth in What Do We Do Now. Tyler Jones and Analise Scarpaci have a significant impact, equally as impressive as Errico or Taylor, but the memorability of their numbers and catchier dialogue sequences with Nelson snap the attention quicker. It’s the album’s cardinal sin, and one Gopnik’s writing should have avoided, where our leads numbers become less memorable than the side-tracks.

Serving a full-course for listeners, including two aperitif bonus tracks, the starter, mains and desserts are satisfactory – but the side salads are too much, these additional numbers add little character, suffer from over-saturated writing and bulk out the runtime, bogging down the album and bloating one’s appreciation. With Our Table, you’ll return for second helpings, but it may not quench as much as you thought it would.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/cd-review-our-table-live-at-feinsteins-54-below/

Our Table Live at Feinstein’s / 54 Below is available from Broadway Records now

Hamilton – Disney +

Directed by Thomas Kail

Book, Music & Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Rating: 5 out of 5.

For people who never understood, indeed resented, the attention and proclaimed brilliance of Hamilton – this is the opportunity to witness the phenomenon which has, and continues to, challenge the face of theatrical culture and historical perception. The American founding fathers, among the hundreds of names left out of their rise to glory, one individual sits overcast throughout history – Alexander Hamilton. A man who, before Lin-Manuel Miranda, the majority of us had perhaps heard of, but knew nothing about.

Sly, charming to a dysfunctional level, Miranda may be the father of Hamilton, but this production is by no means dominated by his exceptional ability or presence. There isn’t a character or moment of the production which feels bereft of wit, emotion or intention. Continuing the spark ideas of intrigue, or conjure debates which, somehow, a mere two centuries later we still seem to be having, Miranda’s Hamilton is both a product of the original century, an immigrant getting the job done, but is also a contemporary figure, a man who cries of the inequality and obstacles many continue to unjustly face.

And in this battle to free a nation, Hamilton is aided by a troupe of ambitious men and surrounds himself in a supportive network of influential women. From Daveed Diggs’s Marquis de Lafayette or his hypnotic Jefferson to the wonderment which is Renée Elise Goldsberry and Phillipa Soo as Angelica and Eliza Schulyer, two of three sisters who Hamilton finds an opportunity to climb the ranks, but ends up in a triangle of love and adoration he will never emerge from. Facing adversity from near and afar, from his former equal Aaron Burr, and across the sea from the Mad King George, performed sinfully by the eminent Jonathon Groff. Under the command of George Washington, Hamilton and this new generation of thinkers, writers and fighters seek to wash out the British and start anew.

Similarly, a rising tide of youth against a sea of tyranny, written from the hand of a man who has stepped forward, challenging a defiant series of expectations and prejudice, seems to have brewed a perfect storm which is now, as viable and potent as ever. Originally debuting in the Obama era – the first black president, to this modern re-framing in the wall-building Trump era. A production which catapults Black, Hispanic and Asian men and women into the roles of the founding fathers and other significant white historical figures is still met with futile resistance. Hamilton has perhaps, accepting idiom, never been more vital to grasping the attention of the people, and blazing a rallying song of the masses.

And what an album of the people, where any individual number can be illuminated for its merit. An infusion of Hip-Hop, Jazz and R&B collie with Broadway belts in a manner in which could crash and smoulder, but Miranda changes the game to his rules. Miranda’s lyrical scripture is magnificent in wit, humour and potency – infusing vast genres into a harmonised balance of wonder. The original cast perhaps demonstrates the flexibility and enthusiasm of the soundtrack, from the venomous energy Leslie Odom Jr. infuses Burr throughout The Room Where It Happened to the silencing tormented emotion of Who lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story. The equally powerful Wait For It, as Odom Jnr’s descent into vendetta is bathed in the midnight brilliance of Howard Binkley’s colossal lighting. Where Hamilton perhaps cements itself as not only a piece of theatre but stunning filmmaking is with Satisfied, Goldberry’s signature moment and a defining moment for the first act. 

This cinematography, from legendary filmmaker Declan Quinn, understands marrying the two mediums in synchronised perfection. If you’ve experience Hamilton from the ‘cheap seats’ in the Gods, you were stunned by the stage and the composition. Now, live from home, you can see the detail, the brass buttons and flickers of emotion in the faces of remarkable performances. Slow tracking shots, following the direction, allows focus and clarity with little to no direct cuts or edits, emulating a one-take aesthetic. Further, the tilts in camera angles serve as enforcers – Quinn’s decision to plummet the camera commands a sense of status from key cast members Washington (Christopher Jackson) or gradually spinning for dear ol’ King George III as his seething fury and madness rises, his competency dying out, his frabjous glee descending.

Where the camera has an edge on the stage, is bringing life to Blankenbuehler’s choreography, an overlooked aspect for Hamilton. A spirituous heavy-footed show, with plenty of revolutionary speeches and thundering stomps courtesy of Yorktown, the footwork is elegant on occasion, and no movement is without design. Orchestrating the movement of often busy stages is a difficult feat, but returning to Satisfied, if it’s possible to resign yourself from the erupting sentiment, observe the intricacy of arranging the cast around a solitary figure, catapulting back in time, and how accomplished this cast is.

So, from a Brit to the Yanks on this 4th of July – embrace history, do not spurn or alter its truth – confront the atrocity, reflect on it and represent it in all of the glorious diversity one can muster. The sons and daughters of bastards, and the immigrants who founded and freed nations are still breathing, still fighting, and still suffering. And if you can, parcel history in all of musical theatre’s majesty. The, well, you may just have taken your shot and forged a piece of cultural significance which will defy expectations, and deservedly strides forth as the par excellence which is Hamilton.

Hamilton is available to stream from Disney+

Lauren Turner: Play On – Broadway Records

Rating: 2 out of 5.

For near-on over a decade, Texan vocalist Lauren Turner has been a crowd favourite across the Cabaret haunts of New York City. Featuring five of Turner’s memorable song choices from her childhood and cabaret career, Play On is a demonstration of which tunes led her down the path to the woman she is today. With a portion of proceeds going to charities benefiting doctors fighting the pandemic, Play On aims to showcase Turner as a performer and looking towards the next decade.

Immediately, there lies a particular issue with Play On, and while a couple of numbers change enough to offer Turner’s unique spin, I Have Nothing feels like an audition number – an exceeding well-performed one, but this isn’t Turner’s The Bodyguard. Iconic, it’s difficult to detach from Whitney Houston’s original as well as the context of the song in the musical, and Turner doesn’t bring enough to remove these from the equation. Though she has exceptional control, the emotion doesn’t come across. Not a good start for the album, but thankfully things take a turn.

Tracks two and three, Michael Jackson’s I’ll Be There and a belter of a classic from Sheryl Crow with If It Makes You Happy offer insight into Turner’s style. There’s a sense of self in the direction taken with these numbers, with decent harmonising with the instrumentals. Turner matches Crow’s ability to hold notes and reaches clear highs without allowing a break or having to build to the final tones – quite skilfully allowing for seamless routines. It’s a start, but there’s the suspicion there’s something more for Turner to offer – and then…

What at first seemed an out of place number, stepping away from the rock and power ballads, a gorgeous rendition of Fire and Rain, the emotional James Taylor classic, effortlessly communicates a sense of who Turner is. There’s an immediate difference, not only vocally, but in the direction and composition of the track – allowing for Michael Isaacs’s piano work to strikeout. Harmonising with the pianist, without detracting, Turner puts such intensity into a softer, yet still empowering cover of the song. It builds, echoing Taylor’s original sentiment with the number, without ruining the memory of his intention. The build-up at the end tops it all off with small scratches, vinyl-record etches we all have fond memories of resulting in a stand-out number for a compact album.

Closing the album, Don Henley’s The Heart of the Matter is a let-down following Fire and Rain. It can’t match the emotional output of the previous track, even if it outweighs it in vocal capability. It’s an evident demonstration of Turner’s ability with ballads and adapting her range to the song, benefiting from Daniel Muniz on guitar and backing from Tara Martinez. Similarly to the album opener, the inclusion isn’t as clear to the listener, this feels like it was chosen and structured not from choice, but as a way to wrap-up the album. This doesn’t feel like a finale, it doesn’t belt with the weight it should do to leave a lasting impression.

Unquestionably personal in moments, Play On feels like a starting point, a direction of personal choice for Turner as she reflects on the songs which morphed her into the powerhouse beltress that she is today. A short album, containing a heft of voice and talent, Play On is a pleasant listen for a sombre evening, best accompanied with a glass of your tipple and a quiet room – just expect to find yourself waiting around for an encore which won’t arrive.

Review originally published for The Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/cd-review-lauren-turner-play-on/

Lauren Turner: Play On is available from Broadway Records now