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A CurtainUp Review
An Evening at the Carlyle: A New Musical Revue
Al Tapper tries to bring back that spirit with An Evening at the Carlyle, set in the Carlyle Hotel's Bemelmans Bar. Never mind that the show is located midtown, not uptown and in The Algonquin Theater, not the Algonquin Hotel. Got that straight? There is no particular era here. The costumes are contemporary. The problems of loneliness, loss, and yearning are timeless. Many songs are dated.
The revue centers around the legendary bar and some regulars. These glimpses of ordinary people with the usual idiosyncrasies of humanity, lend the show a certain charm.
At the center of the bar is Tommy (Dennis Holland), an affable, sympathetic bartender who guides customers in and out as smoothly as he mixes Martinis. He is also the most effective singer, interpreting with nuance and sensitivity. Tommy knows everyone, often greeting them with a personal identification; for example, "Carlyle Girl" (Amanda Gabbard), a sad, repetitive refrain about one chic regular looking for a connection. It is not a particularly memorable melody but it sets a reflective mood.
If there's a bar, there is a barfly (Kelli Maguire) who comes early and stays late. Maguire portrays a struggling songwriter with a strong belt and infectious personality who delivers a recurring theme about her life: "My mother was despotic/ My father was quixotic/ So that's why I'm neurotic.". Both Maguire and Holland play only one character. Choreographer Rachelle Rak — limber, quick, with leg extensions that won't quit— appears once as herself to give some advice ("Breathe") The other three actors rotate through the personalities that include a Yankee fan, young struggling roommates, and a Madoff-styled CEO.
They also portray but don't impersonate the rich and famous who have wandered into the bar, and they do this with malicious glee. These celebs, unfortunately, are the show's weaknesses, popping in and out without purpose and lacking the heart that director Tom Herman tries to infuse into the show. Most effective is Amanda Gabbard in a blonde wig as a energy-driven Ann Coulter who states, "(I'm) The Whitest White Woman in the USA." Gabbard also invokes Barbra and an over-blown Liza. Michael F. McGuirk's wannabe Sinatra has a smooth but bland vocal delivery, and Jason Rowland is a lecherous Donald Trump with a blonde fright wig.
Tapper's 22 tunes are all original, but are they good? Accompanied by David Wolfson on piano, let's say they range from, "Joltin' Joe." a catchy mid-20th century baseball tribute, and a nostalgic tribute to "Brooklyn." At the other extreme is "You Make It Easy to Love You, " a syrupy country/pop ditty sung by two young lovers.
As the evening passes, the now well-juiced barfly is put in a cab for the Bronx and the Yankee fan is close to boarding his "Loneliness Train." After the last call, it is easy to see why the bartender yearns to get home to Brooklyn.
The show's highlight is John McDermott's with such familiar touches as Ludwig Bemelmans drawings over the bar, intimate lighting, and cardboard caricatures on each side (one being Carlyle regular, Woody Allen, clarinet in hand). A smart opening has Tommy twisting some lemon peel into two glasses of sparkling water for audience members at a front row club table. While An Evening at the Carlyle is pleasant enough, the sophistication put into the set is missing in most of songs and in the hard-working, often-stereotyped characters who sing them.