Flavorpill: Beware of Young Girls

Originally published on Flavorpill.

Beware4

Dory Previn was a fascinating figure as both an artist and a human being: weathering a childhood in which she was victimized by both her father and the Catholic Church, she emerged into an adulthood marked by tremendous creative output and marred by struggles with schizophrenia and the infidelity of her husband and songwriting partner, André Previn. It was André’s relationship with Mia Farrow, whom he impregnated while still married to Dory, that spurred the most significant break in Dory’s life and inspired the song “Beware of Young Girls” that gives this evening its name.

Kate Dimbleby, a British cabaret singer, fell in love with Previn’s music from a thrift-store LP. She first recorded an album of Previn tunes in 2012 before collaborating with playwright Amy Rosenthal on the stage version. The album, also called Beware of Young Girls, is a beautiful evocation of Dory Previn’s voice as both a writer and performer. So why then does the stage version feel like more of an impersonation than a performance?

One major difference is that on the album, the songs are allowed to be songs. On stage, they are introduced and interrupted by narration, sometimes in the voice of Kate herself, and sometimes with Kate taking on Dory’s voice in passages drawn from Previn’s two memoires. Part of what makes Previn’s songs so wonderful is their otherworldly poetry, keeping the autobiographical pathos just below the surface of divine metaphor. Literalizing these songs is like taking a dagger to them.

This show, dancing on the line between cabaret and theater, never quite settles on whether it’s showcasing Previn’s songbook or telling a story (either Dimbleby’s or Previn’s), so neither happens with great success. Dimbleby’s insistence on aping Previn’s phrasing and vocal technique – except when she instead invokes Dionne Warwick and Doris Day on songs those women introduced – further gets in the way of elevating Previn the songwriter to her rightful place in the pantheon. It would be a strong statement to hear Previn’s songs reinterpreted in Dimbleby’s own style, but apparently that was not to be. Given that the evening ends with something of a torch-passing moment from Previn’s widower to Dimbleby, this missed opportunity is keenly felt.

Dimbleby is joined on stage by musical director Naadia Sheriff, who plays piano and sings backup ably, but stumbles in her dialogue moments. The evening was directed by Cal McCrystal, better known for his work directing physical comedy in shows like One Man, Two Guvnors, and he is out of his element here. Dory Previn deserves to have her songs rediscovered and reinterpreted for both cabaret and theater, but in failing to decide which was the goal of Beware of Young Girls, it delivered neither.

Beware of Young Girls is at 59E59 Theaters through January 4, 2015.

Image: Kate Dimbleby, with Naadia Sheriff on piano. Photo by Carol Rosegg

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Jewschool: USY Changes Expectations for Youth Leaders

Originally published on Jewschool.

USY, the youth group of the Conservative Movement, has long had policies demanding that kids in regional and international leadership positions follow particular standards. Three of these standards have always risen to the top of the list of those that are the most enforced and the most discussed: keep kosher, keep Shabbat, don’t date outside of the faith. These standards were adopted by youth leaders for youth leaders, although they were generally adopted by kids of a previous generation. This week, at USY’s International Convention, the board debated reframing the standards around both Shabbat observance and interfaith relationships. They voted to retain the Shabbat standard as is and reword the dating standard to encourage (rather than require) endogamous dating while also adding important language about teens treating those whom they date with respect. Although JTA reported this as USY dropping the ban on interdating, USY leadership asserted that is not the case.

As a former USY regional president (who didn’t really date at all in high school, due in no small part to my decision to stay in the closet thanks to a different set of Conservative Movement rules that made me sure a gay kid wouldn’t be welcome in USY leadership), I want to publicly applaud the current teen leaders of USY for taking this step. (I wish they had gone further and dismantled the entire concept of standards, but that’s a post for another day.)

Apparently, USY alumni have been up in arms about these proposals for weeks. I didn’t hear about them until after the JTA article came out, which caused another wave of USY has-beens freaking out. I don’t think my take on this is going to surprise any long-time Jewschool readers, but I’m going to lay it out anyway. Continue reading