Local Vocals Ring True in NYC

Bay Ridge company plays Producer’s Club
by Evan Meeña

“All I need is a break” has been the stereotypical battle cry of young artists since the arts stopped being part of God’s work and started being an occupation with a union. Mary Elizabeth Micari’s vocal studio, Bay Ridge Voice, has concert-style recitals every year featuring her students. This year, the studio made a bold move, they gave their students a real “break” and presented their season-ending concert in Manhattan at The Producer’s Club, a respected off-off Broadway house just off Times Square. For many of the young artists in the one-night concert, this was their New York theatre debut.

The musical master class featured a diverse group of styles, ages, and levels, making for a really enjoyable performance and a learning experience for the audience.

Set up to be a “rehearsal,” the night gave us an eye-through-a-keyhole glimpse of how an artist prepares. Imagine the 21st century version of those old variety shows that took place in what looked like the living room of some established star. First guest was Rafael Sochakov, a charismatic young man with an incredible range. He seemed as comfortable with complicated classical falsetto as with Broadway – old and new. One can expect to see much more from him. Another standout was bright-faced Ashley Chico, a bubbly youth with a power-packed voice and outstanding stage presence. Her version of At Last and Good Morning Baltimore were smile-inducing. Isabella Sirota proved that the Sutton Foster-esque quirky character will continue long after Ms. Foster becomes a character actress. Ms. Sirota turned in numbers from Thoroughly Modern Millie and Little Women exciting in their sincerity and execution.

Speaking of character actors, they were well-represented on the stage by mature and well-played showings by Sherry Geidd and Christine Conway. Ms. Geidd, handling the brassy broad with vigor, in a City of Angels number and brought the audience into her heart with a number from Sondheim’s Passion. Meanwhile, the classy dame was done proud in Ms. Conway’s repertoire for the night with a meaningful Tell Me On A Sunday and playful Falling in Love Again.

An audience favorite was Joseph Conway’s act one finale, an excerpt from Young Frankenstein. His other tunes were surely pleasing but “The Brain” from Mel Brooks’ second Broadway outing was truly top-notch.

Erica Vasaturo of the Mick Watley Band began her musical journey years ago in Micari’s vocal program and has since gone on to the professional realm. She returned as a second act guest artist (clever plot twist about everyone waiting for Erica to arrive) allowed her to bring down the house in the second act with an original tune from a forthcoming album – which I bought at the theatre. Apparently, Vasaturo learned marketing from the program as well.

A cute plot twist was having two non-singing artists do character numbers weaving a boy/girlfriend relationship. Felix Gonzalez and Kristin O’Blessin warbled through some comedy numbers and then spoke through a few sweet love songs. Again like those good old variety shows – a little comic relief for the audience.

The guest star in to whose living room we wander was Mary Elizabeth Micari. Ms. Micari touts a resume of staff credentials from Broadway shows to die for – from Little Women and Millie to Wonderful Town and Light in the Piazza. She is a trained opera singer, stage director and designer, and an herbalist (yup, that’s right). She is obviously an excellent teacher as the evening was a truly enjoyable event. She is obviously a brilliant singer. Her electrifying rendition of Love Me Like A Man as a show finale was executed perfectly, powerful enough to shake the rafters, and containing a feast of subtext and depth. Her killer voice was accented by her dyed-pink hair and casual costuming, which made us want to dance in the aisles with her. Her accompanist, Dan Furman, utilized his powers of invisibility following each performer with ease then emerging as a competent and entertaining pianist in those special moments that were all his.

The Lion King might have some better production values than this little concert; The Met might have more prestige; but nowhere along that row of theatres that included Matilda and Phantom was there more heart, passion, and sheer raw talent than at Voices 2013. I’m keeping my program, so I can say “I saw them when.”

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Evan Meeña is a former member of EMT: Emerging Musical Theater Company in San Diego, and writes for Liberal Librettos, a magazine exploring new views on classic musical theater. He writes for OuterStage.com and TheatreArts.net

Wordy Watchtower: Good Storytelling needs Action

The Watchtower
reviewed by Joseph Conway

Hell’s Kitchen, 1979. A time of vice, corruption, betrayal, and death in one of New York’s most dangerous neighborhoods. A Sicilian Mafioso leers at an Irish folk singer over the rim of his glass of fine Italian wine. “Vino” he calls it, and he insists his friends do the same. His weathered features only hint at the long life of malice and greed that precedes him. Meanwhile, a mother grieves. She still speaks with her daughter in a lonely cemetery. A sister takes another swig of whiskey, drowning the pain and memories. Throughout it all, one man just wants to find a way out, to a little place called home.

Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? Well, much like Hell’s Kitchen in days of yore, “The Watchtower” by Steve Silver is also a hotbed of betrayal, only this time it’s the audience that plays the hapless victim. Strong characters and interesting plot devices abound in the play, but absolutely none of them are used to any effect. I kid you not when I say the entirety of the show is spent reminiscing about things that don’t actually happen on stage. The full hour and a half was literally just a set of characters speaking fondly about memories of days gone by. I thought I was going to see a crime drama, yet the only crime here is that so much good talent was wasted in a show where nothing ever happens.

Nothing. Actually. Happens.

Not a thing! It’s genuinely tragic that such an interesting setting and potentially vibrant characters are wasted on a plot that comes from nowhere, goes nowhere, and ends with no real closure or even a hint of morality. The story winds up with one characters poignant quote of “You can’t go home again” and ends with the main character/villain just… Going home again. Going home and leading a happy life that a man of his misdeeds certainly does not deserve. The only good thing I could say about the ending is that it meant the show was over.

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There is certainly potential in this play, however. The well-chosen cast provides excellent visual storytelling. Carmine Castelucci is the spitting image of a powerful and dangerous crime boss. In fact, Ken Coughlin’s spot on interpretation of the character was probably the highlight of the show. And the initial racial tensions between Italian and Irish mobsters hinted at a much grander story that sadly never came to fruition onstage. Speaking of Irish mobsters, Steve Silver provides the perfect look of a criminal goon as Tommy O’Day. Of course, it would be rather difficult for him not to fit the part, considering he wrote it.

Caroline M Smith steps into the scene as Eileen O’Day, wife of Tommy and mother of the late Meghan O’Day. Her character is multi-layered, tough, is very well acted, and has great potential that is ultimately handicapped by shoddy writing. Eileen is a strong, resilient woman who has been through a lot and has still managed to stand her ground. Her one real weakness is that she still feels the need to visit her daughters grave and converse with her quite frequently. Yet in the end, she still bows down to the will of her husband and up and leaves the country, and her daughters gravesite, in the dust. It just makes no sense for the character that has been established.

Other decisions made throughout the play make little sense as well. Why is there an Irish ukulele player? Wouldn’t a fiddle have been more appropriate to show Carmine the Irish culture? Why was Eileen forced to move furniture around in the middle of her monologue? What was the point of bringing out a quilt and pillows to lie on the floor with in the last scene? Did the actors just need to look like they were doing more than they actually were? Why, in the entire course of the play, did nothing actually happen on the stage? Who honestly thought this was a good idea?

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The Watchtower is all about people reminiscing about things that we never actually see happen. In the end, I certainly wont be reminiscing about this show, and I kind of wish it never happened.

Joseph Conway is a classically trained actor and celebrated article writer and critic, quoted often and well for his reviews of operas.