Released June 8, 2018
Just off the bus from Fort Worth, Texas, Buckley made a splash on Broadway in 1968 as Martha Jefferson in the musical 1776. She famously replaced Jill Clayburgh in Pippin on Broadway and won a Tony Award for her role as Grizabella in Cats. Her portrayal of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, both in London and New York, set a new standard for Broadway leading ladies. Along the way there was continued success in film and TV. Now, she’s starring in the title role in the tour of Hello, Dolly! which just opened in Cleveland (and comes to Dallas in July 2019).
But she has also become a gifted cabaret artist, first working with jazz pianist Kenny Werner and more recently with jazz pianist Christian Jacob. Her newest record, Hope, continues her artistic association with Jacob. It’s her third album with Jacob, and the second recorded live at Joe’s Pub in New York City.
Rather than Buckley’s sensibility wearing off on Jacob, the opposite seems to have occurred. At one time, Ms. Buckley might have sped up the tempo of a song so that its cadence and rhythm matched those of spoken words. But with this most recent recording, Buckley seems to be slowing the songs down in order to give each word its due. Jacob’s arrangements reinvent and re-conceive each song so that it stands alone without the specter of the original hanging over it. The two collaborators find common ground in a way that allows the music to blossom as though newly composed.
At one time, Buckley might have stacked her set list with songs from the Great American Songbook and musical highlights from her own career. But never one to take the easy or obvious path, Buckley dives head first into the Contemporary American Songbook, a genre perhaps overlooked due to its connection to pop and rock ’n’ roll but no less a fruitful source for material. Album highlights include Steely Dan’s “Any Major Dude,” “Falling in Love” by Lisa Loeb and “Shades of Scarlett Conquering” by Joni Mitchell. “Quiet," a song by Paul Simon, finds Buckley contemplative.
The title song, “Hope,” comes from Jason Robert Brown. It encapsulates the tone of the entire album. Hope, in Ms. Buckley’s opinion, presents itself as embattled and beat down but still alive and still worth fighting for even when the odds seem insurmountable.
I come to sing a song about hope.
In spite of everything ridiculous and sad.
Though I’m beyond belief,
Confused, depressed and mad,
Well, I got dressed,
I underestimated how much that would take,
I didn’t break until right now,
I sing of hope and don’t know how.
— Jay Gardner
Two Tickets Left: Songs of Hope
Released Aug. 16, 2018
The latest collection of songs from NYC cabaret singer Marissa Mulder, Two Tickets Left: Songs of Hope, features pianist Nate Buccieri and has turned out to be one of my favorite cabaret recordings of the year. The album begins with Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning” and ends with Tom Waits’ “Take It with Me.” Songs by Matt Alber, Elton John and Stephen Sondheim, among others, comprise the remaining tracks.
Sometimes, I wish Buccieri played with a stronger sense of urgency, and that his arrangements had a little more variety, but his simple, pared-down musical ideas give Mulder the space to tell what seem to be very personal stories. But they do what cabaret does best: give us the opportunity to hear established songs in new ways. Mulder and Buccieri obviously work together exceptionally well and have sculpted this body of work over several years. There is a distinct sense of chemistry and spontaneity here that is very difficult to capture on a recording.
When you look at songs like Tom Waits’ “Martha” or Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in My Pocket,” you don’t necessarily think Marissa Mulder’s clear, youthful soprano voice will fit the bill. And yet, you would be grossly mistaken. “Hand in My Pocket,” for example, is less a mid-‘90s angst-rock song, and more a study in the process of pulling one’s life together and reclaiming it. “Martha” is an extraordinary song by one of our most gifted writers, and in Mulder’s hands it is a real highlight of the album—full of regret and uncertainty and yearning. “It’s Amazing the Things That Float” by Peter Mills deceives you. At first, it seems one of the better songs to come out of the “new musical theatre” catalog of the last 20 years, beginning clever and fairly light, almost a novelty song. As the song continues and in Ms. Mulder’s performance, the song reveals itself to be so much more. You must listen.
For an album subtitled Songs of Hope, and for a singer as bright and youthful as Mulder, there is a sadness that renders the “hope” less than steadfast. “End of the World,” Matt Alber’s attempt to make sense of the end of a relationship, seems hopeful on the surface, but the chances don’t seem very high for real resolution. “Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road” has a weariness to it that makes the listener hope the singer makes it “beyond the yellow brick road.”
Maybe that’s where the “hope” lies: she wants the listener to feel the hope for these characters in the songs.
— James McQuillen
Joe Iconis and George Salazar
Released July 27, 2018
Will Joe Iconis become a household name?
He seems to have already achieved that status among his loyal fans. He is a 2003 graduate of New York University where he earned a BM in composition. In 2006 and 2007 respectively he received both the Jonathan Larson Award and the Ed Kleban Award. His ongoing and eclectic concert series The Joe Iconis Rock and Roll Jamboree and the perennial Joe Iconis Christmas Spectacular have garnered Iconis a loyal fanbase and marked him as a rising star in the New York musical theater scene.
His newest musical, Be More Chill, will take its Broadway bow in January of 2019 after a sold out run at off-Broadway’s Pershing Square Signature Center. The transfer comes as a result, in part, of the phenomenal success of the show's cast album made during its world premiere at New Jersey’s Two River Theater in 2015.
In the meantime, Iconis has released his latest recording titled, curiously enough, Two-Player Game (the title of a song from Be More Chill). Iconis plays piano and provides backing vocals, but the main focus of the album rests on George Salazar, star of the aforementioned musical.
Like much of Iconis’ work, these songs lean toward rock ’n’ roll and pop music. They are quirky, youthful and pre-occupied with self-discovery, social anxiety, and video games.
“I Love Play Rehearsal” is concerned with, well, play rehearsal. One would assume a high school play rehearsal. “The Answer” presents the portrayal of a young man simultaneously taking a test (again, presumably in high school.) and worrying about his future, his place in the world and what he’s going to do for the rest of his life after he’s finished with the test he’s taking. “Michael in the Bathroom” is about a young man who’s at “the biggest party of the year” who’s locked himself in the bathroom because his best friend deserted him at said party and Michael has social anxiety and can’t leave the bathroom and simply enjoy the party. The title song, “Two-Player Game,” is about…you guessed it…two guys playing a video game.
Most of the songs seem to maintain the view point of a teenager, or at the very least someone in their early 20’s. A couple of notable exceptions are “Broadway, Here I Come” in which the dream of success on the Great White Way takes a very dark turn, and “The Goodbye Song,” a parent’s (or grandparent’s) final words to their child before dying. Teen angst, panic about the future and social anxiety seem to pervade every song.
Maybe I’m becoming a curmudgeon. Maybe I’m not open-minded enough, but clearly I am not the intended audience for these songs. I’m sure I had the same hopes and fears when I was in my teens and 20’s but looking back with 20-plus years of perspective I am tempted to borrow a very popular catchphrase and say with great conviction, “it gets better.”
Clearly Iconis knows his target audience. I’m just a little surprised that a 37-year-old married man isn’t delving a little deeper into the human experience. What’s the saying? “When I became a man, I put away childish things.” By the last track of this recording I was wishing Joe Iconis, the songwriter, would grow up already.
— Jay Gardner
» The Music Men now runs on the first Monday of the month on TheaterJones. See below for a list of previous installments
» James McQuillen, an award-winning music director, teacher and pianist. He is currently working on his Master's in Arts Administration at American University in Washington, D.C.
» Jay Gardner is an actor and singer working in musical theater, opera and cabaret. He also makes handmade pottery, which can be seen here. You can see his newest cabaret, Every Song I've Ever Sung, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2 at the Balcony Club in Dallas.
- February: The Broadway revival of The Color Purple, the Encores! Off-Center revival of William Finn's A New Brain, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs: Life from the Cafe Carlyle, and an album of Lea DeLaria singing David Bowie songs.
- March: New York City Center Encores! staging of Lady, Be Good; the 2015 Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof; the Public Theater's 2015 premiere of John Michael LaChiusa's First Daughter Suite; and the latest from British cabaret great Barb Jungr.
- July: Cast recordings of Bright Star, the revival of She Loves Me, Cheyenne Jackson's solo album Renaissance, and Benjamin Scheuer's Songs from the Lion.
- August: James and Jay discuss some of their favorite things, including the cast recording they each first fell in love with.
- September: James and Jay discuss the year of Hamilton
- October: Reviews of new albums by Kristin Chenoweth, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Diana Sheehan and cast recordings of Disaster! and The Robber Bridegroom.
- December: New releases from Carmen Cusack, Leslie Odom Jr., Charles Busch, Barb Jungr and John McDaniel, and Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp.
- February: The Falsettos revival, and Brad Simmons sings Simon and Garfunkel
- March: Jay reveals his favorite theater podcasts, and James crushes on the 2014 cast recording of Here Lies Love
- April: The OCRs for Dear Evan Hansen, Come From Away, Freaky Friday the Musical and recordings from Amanda McBroom and Karen Mason
- May: Betty Buckley's Story Songs, and ast recordings of Pretty Filthy and Jasper in Deadland
- June: Broadway cast recordings of The Great Comet, Hello, Dolly!, In Transit, Amelie, War Paint; and Dreamgirls in London
- July: The cast recordings of Broadway recordings: Bandstand, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Groundhog Day and Anastasia.
- August: Jay Gardner on his experience at the St. Louis Cabaret Conference
- September: No column
- October: The early Alan Menken/Howard Ashman musical adapted from Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; plus Orfeh and Andy Karl live at Feinstein's/54 Below, and Jessica Molaskey does Joni Mitchell songs
- November: Solo albums from Broadway vets Kyle Riabko and Mandy Gonzalez
- The Music Men recap their favorite listens of 2017
- January & February (no column)
- March: The Band's Visit, and revivals of Once On This Island and Working
- April-September (on hiatus)