Entertainment for grownups

Bittersuite

Music by Elliot Weiss; Lyrics by Michael Champagne
Directed by David E. Leidholdt
Musical director Kim Douglas Steiner
Leho Productions
Don't Tell Mama
Manhattan Experimental Cafe Contract (closed)
Review by John Chatterton

This revue showed off sometimes wry, often amusing songs by a talented cast . Many of the songs also showed a novelty of staging that also took them a cut above the general level of expectation. For example, in "Our Favorite Restaurant," a man and a woman (Ian Knauer and Elizabeth Richmond) say goodbye, as one of them must move away because of a spouse. It is clear that they are a hairs'-breadth away from being lovers. Another couple, who could be interpreted as the inner voices of the almost-adulterers or the other two, unwitting, parties to the "affair" (Michael Ursua and Nancy O'Keefe) are also singing along in the background, a contrapuntal image and sound. The combination was richly evocative.

The singers were not all evenly matched to each other in vocal strength but they were all admirably matched to their material. In particular, Ms. O'Keefe showed an almost operatic sound in "The Recipe," an amusing, Tom Jonesish take on food (with Mr. Ursua), and Ms. Richmond exhibited a strong belt in the aforementioned "Our Favorite Restaurant." And Marina MacNeal showed a pretty upper register and a comic flair in the paean to rented love "Pay the Piper" (with Mr. Knauer pantomiming her boy toy).

The lyrics succeeded more in the comic than dramatic realms. The music, while pleasant and never distracting, never stretched the envelope, and tempted the listener to compare it with Sondheim.

The show excelled in the quality of acting and directing in various numbers; for example, "Narcissism Rag," which showcased the handsome Mr. Knauer with Ms. Richmond, Ms. O'Keefe, and Lynne Sherwood. (The use of the red-tinsel curtain made for variety at this point, too.) Mr. Ursua in particular showed a subtlety in acting not usually associated with the genre.

In general, blocking was crisp and the ensemble harmonious, although on the night reviewed the piano rather overshadowed the unmiked performers. Lighting (technical director, Ann Scobie) and uncredited costumes were generic but didn't get in the way. All in all, a show that deserves to be done again.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Performance: 2
Set: N/A
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1998 John Chatterton