Musical Theatre Review Print



Loesser at Duke

December 1, 2001 - Durham, NC:


In Nelson Music Room on the evening of December 2, our great resident soprano Susan Dunn and her frequent partner, pianist David Heid, presented members of Duke's Opera Workshop in the second of two concerts devoted to the music of Frank Loesser, one of the great songsmiths of our time. He was the brother of the celebrated concert pianist and scholar Arthur Loesser, whose performances in the Triangle surely linger in the memories of area music lovers of a certain age.... Arthur was fond of saying that he was the eviler of the two Loessers. Frank's contributions to music were lighter but in many respects every bit as serious, and the Opera Workshop program gave a fine overview of his accomplishments. The lineup drew upon stage works and film scores composed across a twenty-five-year span, starting in 1940. Some were familiar, for tunes from Guys and Dolls, The Most Happy Fella and How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying) have imprinted themselves after long Broadway runs and oft'-replayed original cast recordings, but some of the stand-alone numbers (like "What are you doing New Year's Eve?") and songs from movies were in all likelihood as new and fresh to most members of the audience as they were to the young singers. The concert was not lengthy - the whole thing, with an intermission, lasted only 70 minutes - and the pacing was brisk. If the glue was the music, then the guy with the brush was Heid, who provided set-changing interludes and walkin'-on/walkin'-off support in addition to deftly gauged accompaniments. He, in turn, was assisted by bassist Ben Palmer and drummer John Hanks. And the singers? Well, all performed bravely, and some showed considerable promise. In the first half, we particularly enjoyed the voices of Melissa Berman, Meg Watson and Audrey Christopher, and Rachel Winnick was a winner in a brief cameo appearance. In part two, Shannon Sterling and Mitchener Beasley put across their numbers very nicely, Winnick scored big in "Adelaide's Lament" (from Guys and Dolls ), and Watson and Beasley did well in a Happy Fella duet before the grand finale, which involved all the above-named singers plus Dominique Bailey, Jason Bhardwaj and Christina Hearn (who, like the others, had also taken solo turns). Along the way, we were treated to some fine American music that is, regrettably, not often heard anymore. Too few people were on hand to support the students, and Nelson's "new" acoustics often clouded the sound, but kudos to all concerned for reviving some of Loesser's music and reminding us of his importance as a great composer for stage and screen.