If your romance is going really well, you might consider taking in the off-Broadway musical revue, “The Wonderful Wizard of Song: The Music of Harold Arlen.” On Valentine’s Day (February 14th at 8 p.m.), you can get married onstage during the performance. The theater will provide a group wedding photo, a champagne toast after the show for your entire wedding party, and a commemorative certificate documenting your wedding. The show will also provide two official witnesses. The cast, made up of three male crooners (George Gubatti, Marcus Goldhaber and Joe Shepherd) and a terrific female singer (Antoinette Henry), perform the songs of one of America’s great composers, Harold Arlen, who wrote “Over the Rainbow” and other songs from “The Wizard of Oz,” “Stormy Weather,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Paper Moon,” “Accentuate-The-Positive,” “Lets Fall in Love,” “The Man Who Got Away” and many other standards. The show is playing at St. Luke’s Theatre (308 West 46th St.; 212- 246-8140). The cost for the wedding couple is $350 (for two). Wedding guests pay the regular ticket price of $69.50. “The Wonderful Wizard of Song” is worth seeing even if you don’t want to make a lifelong commitment.
Last year, a new club opened, 54 Below (254 W 54th St.; 646-476-3551), featuring top-flight Broadway and cabaret performers. I haven’t been there but the two new CDs recorded at the venue, Patti LuPone’s “Far Away Places” and Norbert Leo Butz’s “Memories and Mayhem” (on Broadway Records) confirm that the music is on a high level.
LuPone’s CD not only evokes exotic places but pays tribute, either expressly or implicitly, to singers she admires: Edith Piaf (“Hymn to Love” and “I Regret Nothing,” which she somehow transforms to “I Regret Everything”) and Billie Holiday (“Travelin’ Light” and “I Cover the Waterfront”). She reminisces about New York during the 1970’s (when the city was bankrupt and Times Square was seedy) and then segues into a piercing rendition of “The Ballad of Pirate Jenny.” LuPone tells a funny story about making a movie in Sicily, the land of her ancestors, where she feels at home when seeing the noses on the men and the mustaches on the women. Somehow the anecdote leads to “I Wanna Be Around (to Pick Up the Pieces When Somebody Breaks Your Heart).” After a British inflected “By the Sea” (from “Sweeney Todd”), LuPone exclaims, “I can do accents … like Meryl.” Her comic flair comes through again on Cole Porter’s “Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking.” She shows off her soulful side with “Night Life.”
LuPone was the first act at 54 Below and she is returning for Valentine’s Week (2/12-16); the chef is Andre J. Marrero and dinners are served every night before the show. There is a special prix-fixe dinner on Valentine’s Day (2/14). The title of LuPone’s new show is “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda… (played that part)” and will include songs from “Hair,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Funny Girl,” “West Side Story,” “Kiss Me Kate” and “Peter Pan,” among others.
Norbert Leo Butz’s “Memories and Mayhem” is both reflective and self-mocking. He speaks about his career but also his personal life: his two marriages and three daughters. The songs start with a rocking rendition of Marc Broussard’s “Home.” “The Way Young Lovers Do” even outdoes Van Morrison’s original recording. Butz delivers a mesmerizing version of Kurt Elling’s setting of Theodore Roethke’s “The Waking,” performed with a bass accompaniment. “If These Walls Could Talk” and “Killing the Blues” are equally potent. He performs two songs from his past shows, albeit with a twist: Robert Jason Brown’s “I Could Be in Love With Someone Like You” is from “The Last Five Years” (in which Butz originally starred) but was cut from the show when it reached off-Broadway and David Yazbek’s “Great Big Stuff” from “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (for which Butz received the first of his two Tony Awards), which is mixed with the coal-mining song “Sixteen Tons.” “Georgia on my Mind” is dedicated to his 18 month-old daughter and Alicia Keys’ “No One” to his older daughters. The talented Lauren Kennedy joins him for a duet of “Poison and Wine.” I eagerly look forward to further releases in Broadway Records’ 54 Below series.
For stay at home listening, there is no new release more romantic than Robert Cuccioli’s “The Look of Love.” The Broadway musical star has a firm baritone and takes care to convey the meaning of each lyric. He selects songs from the 1930’s and 1940’s that chart the many moods of a relationship, from “A Fine Romance” and “Our Love is Here to Stay” to a “Cold, Cold Heart” and the “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and finally “Nice ‘n’ Easy,” “How Do You Keep the Music Playing” and “All the Way Home.” The title track is not the Bacharach/David song with the same title but the one by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy van Heusen, who wrote a number of songs for Frank Sinatra. In fact, a number of the pieces on the album were recorded by the Chairman of the Board, including “Witchcraft,” “Once Upon a Time” “Prisoner of Love” and “Too Close for Comfort.” Recorded with an expert quartet, arranged by Barry Levitt (keyboard player and co-producer of the album), Cuccioli places his own mark on the familiar material. He is currently playing the villain (Dr. Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin) in “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark.” Cuccioli became famous in a dual role in another Broadway musical: “Jekyll & Hyde.”
If you’re in the mood for a romantic tenor, the obvious choice is Art Garfunkel. Columbia/Legacy recently issued “The Singer: Art Garfunkel,” a double-CD compilation selected by the singer himself with liner notes containing his own comments on each piece. The collection includes some of his unforgettable work with Paul Simon as well as his ethereal performances of new songs and earlier classics, such as “What A Wonderful World” (with Simon and James Taylor) and “Two Sleepy People” (without the humor of Fats Waller’s version). For a sad love story, the set includes a stirring version of “Barbara Allen.”
For female singers, pick up “Destiny’s Child –Love Songs” (on Columbia/Legacy). The compilation contains the track, “Nuclear” (the first new recording by the group in eight years). Certainly, the opening song, “Cater 2U” will feed anyone’s fantasies. The photos of the glamorous stars are another plus.
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