Often times, when we think of a torch song, we think of a lady of a certain age reclining on a grand piano, singing about the man that got away. Love and loss are common themes among the standards found in cabaret and musical theatre. Bitter/Sweet explores these emotions in a new and different way. Using many songs unfamiliar to most ears, with ample selections written by a new generation of composers/lyricists influenced by the “Patron Saint” of complex love – Stephen Sondheim, these five talented young performers give the audience a sneak peek into the inner workings of 21st century relationships.
Love is more than “Someday My Prince Will Come” or “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and other tunes from the Disney songbook. The opening medley presents exactly what we’re not going to see. With a mixture of tongue-in-cheek irony and wit, the cast zooms through nearly a dozen Disney songs, over-emphasizing the saccharine, followed by two songs about happiness: one from Stephen Sondheim’s Passion and “Happiness Is” from You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown, and the up-tempo “Pandemonium” from William Finn’s Broadway hit The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: Life is random and unfair / Life is pandemonium. All of this, mind you, is just the opening number
With updated lyrics unique to this production, the cast reminds us that love and life is bitter and sweet, often in the same breath. Each performer gets several chances to shine throughout the evening, under the direction (and script) of Sean Patterson, with musical direction and accompaniment by Frankie Kelly on the piano, and elegant lighting by Su Gonczy.
Rich Arnold, who conceived the piece, sings (and plays) the haunting ballad “Fred Jones, Part 2” by Ben Folds, about a forgotten everyman who is forced out of his job at a paper after 25 years. Arnold also takes part in a duet with Michael Tramontin of “It Would Have Been Wonderful” from A Little Night Music.
Michael Tramontin flexes his funny muscles with Tom Lehrer’s comedy standard “The Masochism Tango”, but gives us a taste of the bitter in the rarely heard Alan Menken/David Spencer “Leaving St. Urbain Street.”
Natalie Boyd, who is often (purposefully and loveably) goofy on stage in numbers like “Therapy” from Tick, Tick, Boom, and “The Alto’s Lament”, has one of the best moments in the show with a fresh interpretation of the classic Sondheim anthem “Not a Day Goes By” from Merrily We Roll Along.
Likewise, the vivacious Trina Beck gets to vamp it up with the Kander & Ebb ode to loose women “Everybody’s Girl”, and then completely turns around with the introspective “Way Back to Then” from the Off-Broadway hit [title of show]. Beck also gives a great performance of “Getting Married Today,” as the neurotic bride-to-be. And not without mention would be the talents of guest star Meredith Long, “the songbird of the seventh ward.” Long performs one of the funniest and most enthralling numbers: the Jason Robert Brown parody of Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht’s “Surabaya Johnny” -- “Surabaya Santa” – she portrays several deranged and lonely wives of St. Nicholas. She definitely had the entire audience in stitches. She also duets with Trina Beck (both alums of Le Petit’s recent And the World Goes Round) with the satisfying “Class” from Chicago.
This show is for those who have ever felt the sting of love, or ever been jilted from a relationship (and who hasn’t). But not to say that all is bleak, these young performers show us that we can all make it through the rough patches with humor, style, and a good song or two.
Bitter/Sweet at Le Chat Noir
Now through May 27
With Rich Arnold, Trina Beck, Natalie Boyd, Michael Tramontin & Meredith Long
Musical Direction by Frankie Kelly, Lighting Design by Su Gonczy, Sound Design by Evan Davis, Originally Conceived by Rich Arnold, Reconceived by Rich Arnold & Sean Patterson
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