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|A CurtainUp Review
They Wrote That?
The Songs of Mann & Weil
It's certainly been a productive and profitable 168 years. The word that crops up repeatedly in this memoir of their career and personal relationship is "hit." Rightly so. Though their names may not ring as instant a bell as do some songwriting duos (which accounts for that question mark in the title), Mann and Weil have been a virtual hit factory of pop, country and R & B tunes.
"You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" was the making of the Righteous Brothers and virtually defined the genre known as "blue-eyed soul." "We've Gotta Get Out of This Place", became a super hit for The Animals and Dolly Parton owes her first crossover success to their "Here You Come Again." "Blame it on the Bosa Nova" and "Make Your Own Kind of Music" are also part of their amazing hit upon hit output.
While Mann and Weil have collected plenty of awards and honors and could easily rest on their laurels, it seems that Barry has always yearned to be a performer as well as facilitating the performance success of other singersers. Now, with three producers to back their unfulfilled dream, he's on stage for the better part of an hour and forty-five minutes. What's more, his repeated frustrations in being a "singer songwriter with something to say" serves as a running joke and narrative thread of the hit song illustrated They Wrote That?
The format is narration which is not credited to anyone, probably to give the impression of it being spontaneous. The chatter includes some interesting background on the songwriting business but throws little light on just what drew them into the business, or their backgrounds other than that she grew up in Manhattan and he in Brooklyn. Cynthia acts as chief narrator, with Barry's singing the songs she talks about to his own piano accompaniment.
To give the songs their full due, designer Neil Patel has transformed the small stage into a great looking recording studio. Also on stage there's a fine 5-piece band directed by Fred Mollin and trio of peppy singers -- Deb Lyons, Moeisha McGill and Jenelle Lynn Randall. When the stars take a break and these singers fill in with a medley of Mann and Weil "chick songs" they come close to stealing the show.
The fact that the singing trio delivers more show biz oomph than either Weil or Mann points to the show's weakness. Weil has an endearing manner, but she lacks the relaxed ease and timing of an experienced performer. Mann has an easy on the ears voice, but his forte is as a songwriter. For all that this is as much a love story than a song revue, there seems little interaction between the two. When he sings and lighting designer Heather Carson cloaks Weil in darkness she does seem to be looking at him adoringly. On the other hand, Mann too often seems intent on having the spiel end so that he can get on with his singing. This underscores the sense that this whole show is her gift of love to him, including her gamely singing along with the backups and at one point joining him in an updated rap rendition of one of their songs.
Basically this is a cabaret act masquerading as a full-fledged revue. While the McGinn/Cazale Theatre is small and intimate as a club, its being a regular theater has stretched the concept beyond its ideal length. That said, director Richard Maltby, Jr. does keep things moving along, the songs are appealing and Peter Fitzgerald has managed to keep the sound clear and at a tolerable decibel level even if you're sitting, as I did, in the second row.
You'll be given a list of all the songs you heard on your way out. It totals 26! That's 81 short of their total output. Whew!
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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