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Lullaby of Broadway

The Young Singers of Company 13 Bring a Fun ’Tude But Not Much New to Standards of the Great White Way

EMCEE HAMMERED: W.M. Yarbrough III is driven to drink as master of ceremonies in this ain't your parents' musical revue.

By John Barry | Posted 5/18/2005

This Ain’t Your Parents’ Musical Revue

At the Top Floor Theatre through June 4

Top Floor Theatre, 5440 Harford Road, (443) 691-7040, thetopfloor.org

The title of the latest Company 13 production is a little confusing. Whose parents does it refer to? Because most of the troupe is under 30, that would seem to indicate that in this revue, we’re in for a whole new generation of songwriters. But that’s not the case. And when they promise “a hilarious collection of musical performances featuring Broadway hits written within the last 20 years,” one would assume they’re all new musicals. That’s not the case either.

In fact, the subtext here seems to be that when it comes to Broadway in the last two decades the pickings are pretty slim. The players perform 16 songs—including one reprise—and most of them were actually written by late middle-agers. In other words, if you’re under 30, it is your parents’ musical revue.

Take songwriter Stephen Schwartz, for instance. He’s at the top of the marquee here, with three of the evening’s songs to his credit. But he was born in 1948. Mel Brooks, meanwhile, is the eightysomething creative force behind the musical The Producers, which is based on his own 1965 movie. Meanwhile, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown goes back to the mid-’60s, too (although the song included here is a late addition). “Agony” from Into the Woods was written by Stephen Sondheim, who’s no spring chicken, with or without his edge. And Chicago and A Chorus Line, songs from both of which feature in this revue, came out of the mid-’70s.

So it’s disingenuous to imply that there’s something brash and new here. This is actually an evening with a number of young singers who are getting the chance to sing their Broadway faves with tight musical accompaniment and easy-to-handle choreography. Once that’s clear, it’s easier to sit back in one of the theater’s signature sofas, grab a beer, get over the fact that the singing isn’t going to be all that great (it isn’t), and enjoy the show.

There were certainly some bright points. The evening’s biggest hit was Aaron White’s version of “With You,” by Schwartz. The singer in this tune winds up making love to his own reflection in a body-length mirror, and White gets to first base convincingly. Noah Mazaika’s smooth performance as the dazed, inconsequential “Mr. Cellophane,” from Chicago, had a witty sparkle as well. With a languid soft-shoe, he managed to fade into the background even as he got his moment in the spotlight. And Megan Martinez’s turn as Charlie Brown’s younger sister Sally in “My New Philosophy” had a lot of perky energy; she paired up well with Aaron White as the likable loser.

Less successful were “Summer in Ohio,” sung by Martinez, from The Last 5 Years and “Stars and the Moon,” sung by Dana Peterson, from Songs for a New World. Though both by newer writers, the renditions of these tunes were largely colorless. That may be a reflection of the musicals themselves—The Last 5 Years is an extended account of a breakup, while New World’s first selection is a consciousness-raising monologue—and as a result the earnest recitals they receive come off a little hammy.

Likewise, Company 13’s rendition of “Dance, Ten; Looks, Three” from A Chorus Line had its own prurient charm, but the choreography and singing didn’t take it into new territory. And with the recent revival of that musical on stage and screen, it’s dangerous to touch if you don’t have anything new to add.

Everyone got a little more relaxed with the two ensemble songs from Avenue Q, the 2003 musical by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. Here the singing was done by way of skillfully manipulated hand puppets, and the subjects of the songs these moppets sang were fairly topical, at least by Broadway standards. “The Internet is for Porn” is self-explanatory, as Dana Peterson’s hand puppet seems to be the last person in Western Civilization who thinks that the internet is culturally elevating. The entire cast then took part in “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” a sharp and witty debunking of political correctness. The deft puppetry added a skillful touch to these selections, but more importantly, the singers seemed to be enjoying themselves here. If you’re going to be imperfect, after all, you might as well have a good time doing it.

The difficult job of tying all this together fell to the martini-wielding emcees Zak Jeffries and W.M. Yarbrough III. They kept their rat-pack personas intact as they downed drinks, switched names, needled the performers, and warmed up the small crowd. The backdrop by Lynne Twining was particularly notable: Her carefully rendered outline of the city skyline and its shadow image added an interesting, unsettling flavor to a revue that at times could use it.

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