Friday, September 26, 2014

Carolee Carmello: The Boston Concert Presented by F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company - A Veritable Master Class In How To Tell A Story Through Song

The Radiant Carolee Carmello
Earlier this week, F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company, is association with Matt Phillipps, pulled off a stunning coup.  They managed to schedule the illustrious Broadway actor Carolee Carmello to grace the stage at The Arsenal Center for the Arts for a one-night-only concert.  Having watched Ms. Carmello light up the stage night after night as Madame du Maurier in the current A.R.T. production of "Finding Neverland," I made my way to Watertown with high expectations.  I came expecting a very entertaining concert, but what I experienced was far deeper and longer lasting.  Carolee Carmello shared with the audience an intimate invitation to walk with her down the memory pathway of her Broadway career.  The evening was nothing less than a Master Class in how to relate to an audience and how to tell riveting stories through a seamless weaving together of anecdote and song. Each song was placed in a dual context.  She told us how the show fit into her long journey from Upstate New York and SUNY Albany to Broadway and multiple Tony nominations.  Then she set the song and the character in the context of the play's narrative arc.  So we were not just hearing beautiful isolated songs, we were being introduced to real characters who were telling us a key part of their story through this particular melody.  I have seen and heard Audra McDonald do the same thing in concert.  And that places Ms. Carmello in very good company!

  • Very ably accompanied by her Music Director, the talented Phil Reno, she eased into the journey by recounting her role as an understudy in "Les Miserables" - 27 years ago!  Her rendition of "I Dreamed A Dream" was as heart-rending as the composer intended it to be.  Victor Hugo would have been proud of this Fantine.
  • I have heard the iconic "Broadway Baby" from Stephen Sondheim's "Follies" sung by Barbara Cook, Bernadette Peters and other titans of the Broadway and London stage.  Ms. Carmello's rendition was as saucy and delightful as any I have heard before.
  • A highlight of the evening was the cleverly written ditty from "City of Angels" "You Can Always Count On Me."  Singing the roles of two women who always manage to attract the wrong kind of man, Carolee was appropriately seductive and ironic as she sang about attracting the "men who are longing to do my hair"!
  • As the bar maid Nancy in "Oliver," she was simply mesmerizing in "As Long As He Needs Me" - trying to convince us why she had stuck with the abusive Bill Sykes for so long.
  • Another highlight of the concert was her portrayal of Audrey - another abused woman - in "Little Shop of Horrors."  Her Skid Row accent was pitch perfect, and she made the deliberately kitschy lyrics touching as she crooned "Somewhere That's Green."
  • The concert continued with the gorgeous "When I Look At You" from "The Scarlet Pimpernel."  I had seen her perform this song on Broadway, and this evening's version was particularly poignant as she lamented losing the husband she had fallen in love with and who stood before her - distant and mysterious and changed.
  • "You're Just in Love" from "Call Me Madam" and "Trip To The Library" from "She Loves Me" demonstrated still more colors in the full spectrum of Ms. Carmello's singing and acting range.
  • "Our Story Goes On/Patterns" gave her an opportunity to reprise two roles she had played at different poles in her career in two productions of "Baby."  She was believable both as the young first time wide-eyed mother-to-be and the stunned empty nester who finds herself once again in the family way.
A wonderful surprise and a touching moment was calling her father from the audience to sing with her a duet that they had begun to sing when she was a girl back in New York.

We took a short break to stretch our legs and to give Ms. Carmello a chance to change into a stunning crimson evening gown.  Most of us spent the Intermission congratulating ourselves on our good fortune to be present at such a memorable and stunning event.

  • "Why Can't I" from "Scandalous" kicked off the second half of the concert, followed by the powerful "I Haven't Got A Prayer" from "Sister Act."  This may be the best song written for a Mother Superior since "Climb Every Mountain," and Carolee's interpretation of the number was - well, Superior!
  • "Crimson Kiss" from the short-lived and all-too-mortal "Lestat" allowed her to show her maternal side in talking about the impending death of a key character in the story.
  • The next song was set in the context of the 9/11 tragedy.  Broadway was shut down for several days, and on the first night that shows re-opened, only a handful of stalwart theatergoers made their way to the Great White Way that had been darkened by the terrorist attacks.  Carolee recounted how terrified she was to step back on the stage to sing "So In Love" from the revival of Cole Porter's "Kiss Me Kate."  By the time she began the song, I think most of us were caught in a reverie of where we were during those tragic 2001 September days.
    • I do not believe that Ms. Carmello was aware of how close to home she was hitting in reminding us of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  For the Arsenal Center for the Arts sits just a few hundred yards from the staging area that police used in their manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers.  I am sure that I was not the only person in the audience who made that connection.
  • The beautiful "All The Wasted Time" from "Parade" gave way to "I'm Going Back" from "Bells Are Ringing."  The song was a rousing tour de force of comic timing and Mermanesque belting out a great tune.
  • Her valedictory number, "The Winner Takes It All" was presented as a celebration of "Mamma Mia!' as well as of her career and of the wonder of musical theater as an art form.

  • The icing on the cake was two encores.  Finishing with "Don't Rain On My Parade" from "Funny Girl" sent us all out into the street with heads held high and hearts beating with joy and appreciation for what we had just witnessed.
If you ever have a chance to see this gifted performer- in concert or in a musical - it is worth moving heaven and earth to get to any venue that tries to contain this enormous talent.  Boston was blessed to have a small taste of that talent this week, and for the past several weeks in Cambridge in "Finding Neverland."

What a splendid evening!


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