By Joel Benjamin
November 5th, 2012
Larry Kerchner is a fine songwriter with a command of many styles from the Blues to the “list song.” His work is clever, sophisticated and emotionally satisfying. So, why is he not better known, even among theater cognoscenti? Beats me! If Hidden Treasures: The Songs of Larry Kerchner, a benefit for the Michael Feinstein Great American Songbook Initiative and the Mabel Mercer Foundation, proves anything, it’s that Larry Kerchner deserves more of the kind of attention he received here and he deserves to have his songs sung by the incredible cast who gave stylish interpretations of the Kerchner oeuvre.
Dennis Chiccino, who also served as one of the back-up singing group, opened the show with a bang, singing the Forty’s pastiche “Uptown” about the sophisticated pleasures of NYC like the Rainbow Room, the Copa and Harlem. Laurel Massé’s “Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash” was a sweet homage to Jimmy Durante’s muse. Also in the pastiche mode was “The Gypsy,” sung by the clarion voiced jazz vocalist Hilary Kole, with a kind of Latin arrangement, complete with a brilliant “Gypsy” solo by Sara Caswell whose violin artistry throughout the evening was a continual inspiration.
In the Pop vein, Kevin Spirtas, a Soap star, sang the straightforward love song “The Measure of My Love” in a clear tenor while the elegantly cool duo, Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano put their stamp on “Still Friends,” a musing on how the years affect a loving relationship. Also in the relationship vein was “If You Believe.” Eric Rudy and Stacy Sullivan asked each other in rhyming verse for trust and understanding.
Humor also raised its wicked head in “Ring Ring!” about a cheating husband, sung by an upbeat former beauty queen, Erica Scanlon Harr and in “What’s Your Phobia?” a ditty that listed just about every fear possible. Although the song wore out its welcome with all its forced “-obia” rhymes (Phoebe Snow-bia!), Jeff Harnar was undaunted and found every drop of humor in it. “Just What’s On the Menu,” a Country & Western melody about a waitress fending off customers’ advances found a home in Colleen McHugh’s bemused interpretation. Cabaret icon Sidney Myer was hilarious in “A Jewish Christmas” which dealt with how Jews feel a bit cheated at Christmas time. (“All I got was a bagel and a shmear!”)
At opposite ends of the age spectrum were Jill O’Hara, statuesque and elegant and the Sinatra-in-the-making, Nick Ziobro. Still elegant and statuesque, Ms. O’Hara sang “The Time Is Now,” a sweet song about a long time relationship and imbued it with her mature outlook while Mr. Ziobro, a young buck, affected a Rat Pack attitude in “Sinatra” which had many references to songwriters like Sammy Cahn and Cole Porter. Mr. Ziobro is quite young and he will find his own voice eventually.
Three songs were especially moving. The lightest of the trio of songs was “Old Friends,” a sweet and funny paean to the warmth and necessity of friendship, given a properly mature rendition by Randie Levine-Miller and Sandi Durell (who also served as producer and publicist for the show). “Home,” a memoir of Mom and Dad and a happy childhood was heartbreaking as Tom Vaughn sang the moving climax, revealing how hard life is now. Shana Farr took what might have been maudlin material, the theme from “Somewhere in Time,” certainly a beautiful melody, and enriched it with her gorgeous soprano. It was a clear-eyed view of gooey material and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
There were two rousing numbers which opened and closed the second half of the show. “It’s Christmas!” was performed by two married couples, Greg & Erica Harr and Garrett & Raissa Bennett and the finale, “Down at Mama Jones’” a honky-tonk number about a very happy, jamming dive joint uniting the entire cast.
The band, directed by Hubert “Tex” Arnold, was terrific. The afore-mentioned Sara Caswell nearly stole the show with her jazz violin. Sean Harkness was the guitarist, Tom Hubbard, the bassist and John Gebhart, was on keyboards. Somehow, Mr. Arnold molded his witty arrangements to suit each of Larry Kerchner’s many styles.
Hidden Treasures: The Songs of Larry Kerchner
York Theatre at St. Peter’s Church
54th St. & Lexington Ave.
New York, NY
November 5th, 2012
Photos: Maryann Lopinto