This afternoon I went to The Music of Pan Alley at the American Century Theater in the Gunston Arts Center in Arlington. It was the "opening afternoon" of this cabaret-like review of popular music from the Tin Pan Alley era which is running for a week and a half.
The repertoire ran from about 1890 to 1935, with the greatest emphasis on the period through 1920. The songs were done straight, with no miking in a very small theater [and with an extremely small audience].
There was one very good pianist and five singers: two men and three women. The songs, as I said, were done basically straight, with no winking of the eye or making fun of the music. The songs were treated with the respect due works of art.
The performances by the five singers, however, was uneven. One of the women was substantially older than the other four singers, somewhere in her early or middle 30's. She had a trained soprano voice and had a lot of acting and also singing shtick that she used. And she used it well. One number that didnít turn out well, however, was her Art Is Calling Me [I Want to Be a Prima Donna Donna Donna]. Her voice was good but so high that it was hard to understand the lyrics. If I hadnít already known them I doubt I would have understood more than 30% of it; and she was focussing more on the music, on the sound, than on the meaning of the text.
One other woman was, as were the remaining singers, in her early 20s and did not appear too experienced. She was naturally pretty but either from nervousness or for some other reason she appeared very timid and mousey; even her clothes looked drab, sort of earth tones and maroon and brown skirt and blouse. She was a "lower" soprano, sang well and put the songs over well, although she didn't do as good a job as the first female singer.
The third female singer, also in her early 20s, might have had a good voice but you almost couldn't hear it, even in this very small theater. She had almost no projection. Working at the Opera House and seeing performances over and over, it wasn't uncommon to have singers who were ill or who were saving their voice for a "better" performance in the evening hold back and only go through the motions of singing. That was what this singer was doing; but I don't know if it was because she was saving her voice or because she didn't have a voice that could project.
The two male performers were very different from each other. One had a good voice, good style, good but not great acting. He sang straight and in a direct style that was fitting to the material. The second male performer was the first one to have a solo in the show. Within the first two or three notes of starting he went flat; he went flat several more times in the next few bars; I don't what the musical term is but he was behind the piano by the a very small amount, maybe a half beat. I first attributed it to nervousness. This was the opening performance and he was the opening performer. I thought that as the song went on he would get more confident and stay on pitch; he didn't. And he also kept going flat throughout the performance of the whole show.
The Hoagy Carmichael number Stardust was in a very highly arranged version for quintet. The second male singer was the lead singer, began flat, often went flat and I don't know how the other for singers were able to stay on key with him. None of this seemed to bother him. He had a lot of gimmicks and stage business; maybe he's an all-around song and dance men but he isn't a very good singer. His voice was Broadway juvenile or Broadway chorus. He also needed a haircut.
About two-thirds of the way through the show the mousey woman had just sung "Carolina in the Morning" and then did what is from my point of view the worst possible thing a performer can do: she wanted the audience to join her in a sing along of the song. [In my opinion performers are supposed to stay on the stage; the audience is supposed to stay in the audience and never the twain should meet.] What made this especially embarrassing was that even though this was a small auditorium there was an even smaller audience. The entire audience consisted of 19 [nineteen] people. Thus, during the sing along there were 18 singing audience members and one who wasn't. Ironically, if there had been a normal sized audience I would have joined in the singing; but not with only 19.
The show ran for about an hour and 10 minutes straight through with no intermission. All in all it was worthwhile to go to, was the kind of show to take foreign tourists to, but I wish there had been a bigger and better audience and that one performer had trained more.