Randy Newman's Harps and Angels Theatre Review - A Walk Down Remember Lane with the Music of Randy Newman

"Randy Newman's Harps and Angels" at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles through December 22, 2010

After upwards of fifteen nominations, I was as happy as anyone to see Randy Newman finally win his Oscar for Best Song, “If I Didn’t Have You” from “Monsters, Inc.” in 2002. Now Newman’s work receives a musical roast in Mark Taper Forum’s production of “Randy Newman’s Harps & Angels”.

Three guys ( Ryder Bach, Michael McKean, Matthew Saldivar) and three girls (Sto rm Large, Adriane Lenox, Katey Segal) are the ensemble charged with bringing us the sights and sounds of Newman’s Music. Wrapped in a montage of loose narrative, the show’s repertoire spans from the 1968 classic “I Think It’s Gonna Rain” to "Down in New Orleans,” from the 2009 Walt Disney animated feature The Princess and The Frog.

The Cast of "Randy Newman's Harps and Angels" at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles

While Newman’s musical signature is clearly the storytelling within his songs, only half of the musical numbers truly lend themselves to theatrical staging. “Big Hat, No Cattle” has sight gags built on, but the staging was fun as well. “You Can Leave Your Hat On” provided the perfect lyrical structure for a silly and seductive scene featuring Bach & Large.

Adriane Lenox in "Randy Newmnan's Harps & Angels"

Similarly “Shame” finds McKeon’s character fumbling through a desperate and pathetic plea for affection, while contemptuous onlookers taunt him in his efforts. However, Katey Segals’ “Feels Like Home”, while quite lovely and dramatic, ultimately fell short of being visually theatrical. The virtuoso performance of the evening would have to be Adriane Lenox’s “When She Loved Me”. Without props or context, she performed with remarkable grace and poise; she had the entire room on the edge of their seat, including me. Well Done.

Michael McKeon & Storm Large in "Randy Newman's Harps & Angels"

The production does not attempt to tell a story. The show is a series of snapshots of life. However, without a narrative or character to follow, an undue focus is shone on just how similar Newman’s songs are in sound, style and theme. Yes, they all started to sound alike; at a certain point the show lost me. It was the individual performances that brought my attention back. The vocal agility of the six performers was truly impressive, particularly when you note how “naked" the voices were. The apparent absence of reverb or filters on the microphones gave every voice and every performance a new layer of authenticity. It was a brave choice on the part of director Jerry Zaks: but it also illuminates what fantastic vocalists he cast for the production.

As a musical roast to Randy Newman, the show is fine, everything a Newman fan would want and hope for. As a piece of musical theatre, it would probably serve the production better if there were fewer songs and more focus on creating a through line connecting the numbers. Having a character or story to follow gives the audience more to do than just wait for the next song; it would give the audience a journey to venture upon, and would create anticipation, because we won’t know where we’re going.

"Short People" performed by the cast of "Randy Newman's Harps & Angels"

Overall, this production makes for a humorous, enjoyable evening.

Randy Newman’s Harps and Angels is running now until December 22, 2010 at:

The Mark Taper Forum
at the Music Center
Downtown Los Angeles
135 N. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Ticket Information: 213-628-2772


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