Baritones & Elivs
Now that tenor shows have proliferated to the threshold of cliché, “Baritones Unbound”, on tour through Arts/Emerson at the Paramount Center, is bringing a soaring new hearing to the under-appreciated title voice. Conceived by very talented Broadway leading man Marc Kudisch, this new musical event provides both a short, lively history of its subject as well as a vibrantly sung selection of repertoire. Subtitled “Celebrating the Uncommon Voice of the Common Man,” “Baritones Unbound” moves from Gregorian chants through Renaissance and modern opera and operetta to popular music as it skillfully demonstrates how composers as diverse as Mozart, Verdi, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers (with Oscar Hammerstein) and Stephen Sondheim have given voice to the human condition through its expressive register.
Kudisch and ‘’friends’’—namely fellow baritones Jeff Mattsey and Ben Davis—go much beyond the Encyclopedia Britannica’s unsatisfying definition of their voice as one between tenor and bass. Establishing its territory and clarifying its rich qualities both in the first act timeline and in strong solos and harmony-rich duos and trios throughout, “Baritones Unbound” frees its subject from the ignorance and stereotyping that have sometimes branded it as a mere middle ground. There are also fine tributes to baritone greats Paul Robeson and Frank Sinatra- with all three contributing turning such respective signature songs as “Ole Man River” from “Showboat” and “It Was a Very Good Year” from “The Fantasticks” into program highlights. Particularly memorable as well is a pairing of the Elvis Presley hit “It’s Now or Never” and the aria “O Sole Mio” that demonstrates the importance of opera as a source for some pop baritone vocals.
Kudisch’s acting, Mattsey’s broad stylings and Davis’ sometimes darker deliveries all complement each other in a chemistry that illustrates both their friendship and their distinctive voices. The second act ‘man cave’- with leather furniture, beer and a backdrop with photos of such other renown baritones as Robert Goulet and John Raitt-completes the show’s vocal Everyman premise. Pianist Timothy Splain- who co-created the program with Kudisch, Mattsey and Broadway actor Merwin Foard- provides accompaniment as versatile as the singers’ talents.
“Baritones Unbound” is an exceptional musical event and a must-see display of uncommon talents.
Baritones Unbound, presented by Arts/Emerson at the Emerson/ Paramount Center, Boston, through October 20.artsemerson.org.
Elvis Presley figures prominently as well in “Million Dollar Quartet,” now on tour at the CITI Emerson Colonial Theatre. The 2010 Tony Award nominee takes its name from the description “Father of Rock n’ Roll” producer Sam Phillips gave to four music legends- Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Presley himself- whose careers he launched. Taking the form of their December 4, 1956 one-time only Memphis jam session, “Quartet” cleverly intertwines their respective career beginnings and Phillips’ pioneer work at Sun Records with a rich, no-intermission presentation that evocatively recalls their historic foursome.
For the most part, the results are solid gold. Vince Nappo has all of Phillips’ risk-taking fervor and affection for his performers. James Barry plays guitar and moves with Perkins’ celebrated dynamism-especially on “Who Do You Love.” John Countryman has all of the cockiness and electricity of iconoclastic piano man Jerry Lee Lewis (now 88 and in his seventh marriage)-most notably on his signature number ‘Great Balls of Fire.” Scott Moreau as Johnny Cash displays an impressively deep bass on such hits as “Sixteen Tons” but could do with more expressiveness in exchanges between the characters. Tyler Hunter has the right moves as Presley but could project more on lower notes in such numbers as “That’s All Right.” Kelly Lamont as insightful vocalist Dyanne sizzles on “Fever.”
“Million Dollar Quartet” pays overdue tribute to Sam Phillips as it vividly recalls the historic jamming of its very different legends. The Colonial tour will have pop fans rocking ‘n’ rolling.
Million Dollar Quartet, presented by Broadway in Boston at CITI Emerson Colonial Theatre, Boston, through October 20. 866-348-9738 or www.BroadwayinBoston.com