Flavorpill: Judy Kuhn: American Songbook Series Review

Originally published on Flavorpill.


There were a lot of good ideas on display at the Appel Room on Wednesday night: Giving Judy Kuhn the American Songbook spotlight before she returns to Broadway in Fun Home later this season was a good idea. Pairing Ms. Kuhn with Todd Almond as her arranger and musical director was a great idea. Giving them six additional musicians to play charts by Josh Clayton was a wonderful idea. Crafting a show around the three generations of composers in the Rodgers-Guettel family was a superb idea. Why then did the finish product feel much better in theory than in execution?

The evening started on a promising note, with an expansive delivery of “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’’’ (by grandfather Richard Rodgers) giving way to “The Call” from Floyd Collins (by grandson Adam Guettel) quickly followed by “Am I?,” a Mary Rodgers (daughter of Richard, mother of Adam) rarity, tied together by Kuhn’s art song treatment of each.

The rest of the concert would have benefitted by similar attention to cohesion. Instead, the straightforward ballads all landed beautifully, for indeed there are few singers who can handle a romantic number like Judy Kuhn. But every time the tempo crept upward, the show stumbled, particularly when guest stars entered the picture. Malcolm Gets, who directed the evening, was particularly perplexing when he took the stage as Kuhn’s duet partner on “We’re Gonna Be All Right,” appearing to have no comprehension of the lyrics. Shuler Hensley fared somewhat better when he joined Kuhn for a schticky medley of “Song of Love” and “Wonderful Guy,” but the schtick never quite coalesced into full-fledged humor.

Still, Kuhn’s glorious renditions of Richard Rodgers romantic standards like “Nobody’s Heart” and “Hello, Young Lovers,” could melt the heart of the most critical audience member, and her takes on Guettel’s “Dividing Day” and “Hero and Leander” made strong cases for those songs to receive “future standard” status. And if the concert missed an opportunity to put forth a more sophisticated idea about these songwriters than “Gee, they wrote great music,” there are worse things than spending 70 minutes in one of the city’s most beautiful concert venues listening to great music.

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