By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III “The People’s Critic”
It is hard to believe it is the better part of two decades since I first had the pleasure of hearing talented soprano, Kelli Estes, as she performed in New York City. How could I have guessed then that fate would soon find us both working in the Houston area where, happily, whenever I am in town, I continue to have pleasant opportunities to see her perform with the talented LoneStarLyric Company that she founded thirteen years ago back in 2006? Appropriately billed as “Houston’s Premier Lyric Theater,” the company’s 13th Anniversary season continues with this weekend’s ANOTHER BRITISH INVASION, a cabaret celebration taking place at the Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston, a.k.a. “MATCH.” The current production is the fourth in the troupe’s five-event series this season, and seems particularly timely in this age of “Brexit.” The program highlights an assortment of musical selections associated with British composers from Andrew Lloyd Webber, to Noël Coward, the Gershwins, The Beatles, and beyond. The talented vocalists include Andrew Briggs, Sarah Brindley, Ms. Estes, and Jeremy Wood. The accompanying jazz trio features Music Director, Barry Sames, on piano, Carol Daubert on drums, Alan Simmons on bass, with Mr. Briggs often joining in on guitar.
Soft pastel lighting pleasantly illuminates the intimate and casual space of Theater #1 in the MATCH theatre complex. A refreshment stand adjoins the theatre, and drinks and snacks are welcome in the house. All of the comfortable seating is within full view of the stage, and a few premium seats have cocktail tables beside them.
The trio led things off with a jazzy interpretation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s, “All I Ask of You,” and was quickly followed by Mr. Wood with the lively Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley collaboration of, “My Kind of Girl.” Ms. Brindley showed no fear in moving between high and low vocal ranges for her smoothly elegant delivery of George & Ira Gershwin’s, “A Foggy Day.”
After Estes treated the audience to the Johnny Mercer/Richard A. Whiting tune, “Too Marvelous for Words,” trouble reared its ugly head during a two-number tribute to the challenging “patter” songs of Gilbert & Sullivan. The tongue-twisting and rapid-fire difficulty of many of their delightful G&S operetta songs is well-known, and quite amazing to hear when successfully performed. Alas, here the several interrupted attempts by Kelli and Jeremy for “My Eyes Are Fully Open,” did not go well, but it was all in good fun as Andrew rescued them with a fine performance of the equally difficult, “Modern Major General.” Jeremy would then add to the fun with the tropical rhythms, rhymes and wit of Noël Coward’s “Nina,” [from Argentina]. Sarah then offers a soft and gentle transition with another Bricusse/Newley tune during her light and airy, “Pure Imagination.” Speaking of transitions, Kelli’s performance of the McCartney/Lennon song, “Blackbird,” was the perfect pathway to the group’s pleasant harmonies as they joined forces for a Beatles celebration with “All You Need is Love,” “Love Me Do,” and an “All the Lonely People,” that featured nice guitar work from Andrew. They closed this Act One with a solid, “Nowhere Man,” and the perky fun of an infectious, “When I’m 64,” that was nicely complemented by some notably fine work from Simmons on the bass.
The countless additional delights following intermission would include a very operatic performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s, “Memory” from Sarah, who then joined Kelli for a fine pairing of the Jule Styne/ Bob Merrill Funny Girl classics, “People,” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” Kelli’s tender side would be nicely displayed in Noël Coward’s, “Mad About the Boy,” and there were more fine moments on bass from Simmons. Jeremy and Sarah pair for the Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn tunes, “Time After Time,” and “Just in Time,” smoothly navigating some tricky counterpoints while the trio shows off during some high-speed displays. Those musicians would also win some appreciative audience applause during the sneaky fun of Henry Mancini’s, “Pink Panther,” and then it was time for Kelli to draw things toward a close with Jule Styne and Comden & Green’s poignant, “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry.” While there wasn’t much to cry about during this pleasant musical journey, I would offer two suggestions. While there were numbers where a firm hand on the piano seemed in order, there were other times when this listener would have liked a lighter touch on the ivories. Lastly, energy and enthusiasm are great, but I have a pet-peeve when talented performers supplement the beautiful music and lyrics of classic songs that speak for themselves, by feeling the need to decorate every syllable of a tune with animated gestures and facial expressions. The very best songs need none of that, so I will now take my exit cue from this show’s finale, Eric Idle’s, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” So if my readers hurry, they can still catch today’s final performance at 5 p.m. at Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston, 3400 Main St. @ Holman. For tickets & information visit www.LoneStarLyric.org, or call 917-414-9577. The phone number at MATCH is 713-521-4533, and the website www.MATCHOUSTON.org .
A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the columns of DAVID DOW BENTLEY III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com