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I wish I'd had a better time at Friday evening's Town of Cary Marvelous Music concert It Takes Two: An Evening with Lauren Kennedy and Alan Campbell at the Cary Arts Center, but I understand why I didn't.
First, and with rare exceptions — Sinatra, Mel Tormé, John Cullum, and Louis Armstrong (who was the exception to everything anyway) — I don't much care for the male singing voice generally. Second, until fairly recently I used to love Broadway musicals, and much of the husband-and-wife team's repertoire illustrated why I no longer do.
Alan Campbell, when singing "straight," has a good range, and his voice and timber are rather pleasant. Unfortunately, he is too often determinedly "bouncy," for lack of a better word. When he's performing a character-driven song and not playing "up," he's engaging enough. Until, that is, he goes into his seemingly inevitable falsetto, which rises and rises, trembling on the verge of self-parody. Lauren Kennedy is more reliable; occasionally, however, in certain registers, her warm, assured voice loses its vibrato and sounds a bit strained. But she approaches a number in full control of the meaning of the lyrics — no mean feat in this day of endless melisma masquerading as style, the words mere props for escalating vocal pyrotechnics.
With the sole exceptions of some late '50s and early '60s pop and the last of Irving Berlin's patented contrapuntal duets ("An Old Fashioned Wedding") the evening's selections were limited to items from the last 20 years or so of musical theatre — perhaps the worst period in the genre's history, and one which, to my mind, demarcates the end of the American musical as a genus with any continuing, positive influence on the world.
What a poor thing it is, this once-essential aspect of America's cultural vigor, now dominated by European super-spectacles, musicalized editions of Hollywood hits, badly-stitched songbook shows cannibalizing not even Broadway's own past, but that of popular composers, and even singers or bands. So in this concert we got no Sondheim (despite the evening being titled after a number from Into the Woods), no Porter, or Rodgers, or Gershwin, or Bernstein. Ditto Arlen and Harburg, Comden and Green, Lerner and Loewe, Burton Lane, Cy Coleman, Kander and Ebb, Bock and Harnick, Weill, Styne, Loesser or Harold Rome — the omission of nearly everyone, in short, whose best work once made Broadway matter. We got exactly one by Kern, and that — The Platters' version of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" — sporting a set of typically hackneyed and pseudo-poetic Otto Harbach lyrics. If we must have contemporanieties only, why not a dash of Adam Guettel or William Finn?
Kennedy did nicely by the exquisite Mancini-Mercer movie ballad "Moon River," but Campbell's well-sung "Fly Me to the Moon" reminded me of how antiquated the vaunted Bart Howard's writing really was: "With music and words I've been playing" is a line that would have delighted Harbach in the 1920s.
For wit, we got David Yazbek, whose Dirty Rotten Scoundrels ditty "Here I Am" sounds like warmed-over Cole Porter without the delighted surprise, and Jason Robert Brown's equally lugubrious Urban Cowboy throwaway, "Mr. Hopalong Heartbreak." (The title alone should serve as a warning.) Kennedy's rendition of "My Lifelong Love," a charm-song by Brown's wife — unidentified, so I'll disclose her name: Georgia Stitt — was easily the best of a lot whose nadir was reached with the ubiquitous "I Dreamed a Dream," to which Herbert Kretzmer, a poor-man's Hammerstein, contributed such semantic howlers as "With their voices soft as thunder."
Kennedy's rendition of Wicked's "For Good" was agreeable, and it's a song I well might have liked had it not been written for Stephen Schwartz's appalling "musical comedy" adaptation of the magnificent Gregory Maguire novel, a feel-good show out of a serious work of literary imagination whose mega-hit status perfectly encapsulates the reasons why the Broadway musical is pretty much a dead proposition today.