Princeton Festival Presents “Something Wonderful” to Benefit 2021 Season; Duo’s Online Recital Features Songs from Classic and Contemporary Musicals
“SOMETHING WONDERFUL:” The Princeton Festival presented “Something Wonderful: An Evening of Musical Favorites.” The online concert featured soprano Amy Weintraub (right), accompanied by tenor and guitarist Shane Lonergan. (Photo courtesy of The Princeton Festival)
By Donald H. Sanborn III
The Princeton Festival presented Something Wonderful: An Evening of Musical Favorites on March 26. Actress, singer, and dancer Amy Weintraub performed an online recital of songs from classic and contemporary musicals. Actor, director, and musician Shane Lonergan accompanied Weintraub on guitar, and also sang with her on some of the selections. A press release emphasizes that the concert was a benefit whose ticket sales “help fund the Festival’s 2021 season.”
Weintraub and Lonergan previously performed together in The Princeton Festival’s 2020 Live Musical Theater Revue. Weintraub also starred in the Festival’s 2019 production of She Loves Me.
According to Weintraub, Something Wonderful was livestreamed from the living room of her parents’ house (which hosted a small “fully vaccinated” audience) in Fort Collins, Colorado. Acting Artistic Director Gregory Geehern said that he had asked the performers for an “NPR ‘Tiny Desk’ vibe.” It was an astute bit of direction; the intimate, relaxed mood echoed that of a concert in a coffee shop.
The concert was in two segments. The first largely favored selections from musicals that premiered during Broadway’s mid-20th century “Golden Age.” After an intermission, greater emphasis was placed on more recent shows and songs. Unifying themes were the emergence of love, the uncertainty that can accompany it, and the extent to which prior experience can leave one unprepared to process current feelings.
The concert opened with “Almost Like Being in Love,” which the duo performed at a brisk, sweeping tempo. The euphoric duet is from Brigadoon (1947), the first major Broadway success for lyricist (and librettist) Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe.
Weintraub — a soprano whose experience in singing opera equips her for Loewe’s evocations of Viennese operetta — began the number, infusing it with amiable intensity. Lonergan, a sturdy tenor, joined her on the subsequent verses. Weintraub incorporated movement into her performance, concluding the piece with her arms exuberantly outstretched.
A similar musical style characterized the next selection, which was a graceful vocal solo by Weintraub. Written by Meredith Wilson, the wistful “Goodnight My Someone” is sung in The Music Man (1957) by Marian, a small-town librarian whom Weintraub recalled portraying in a high school production. The role suits her voice.
Weintraub’s subsequent solo, while vocally refined, replaced the operetta style of the previous numbers with a musical comedy idiom. In Guys and Dolls (1950), whose music and lyrics are by Frank Loesser, the character Sarah Brown sings “If I Were a Bell” after she has had “a little too much to drink,” Weintraub noted. The vocalist illustrated this by swaying to the song’s gentle swing rhythms.
For “People Will Say We’re In Love,” a duet written by composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II for Oklahoma! (1943), the performers opted for a style that echoed that of the 2019 Broadway revival. That production’s musical arrangements have “bluegrass, folk, and country elements,” Weintraub explained. The choice particularly suited Lonergan’s voice.
Weintraub and Lonergan combined the first act duet with its reprise near the end of the show, which offered scope for a change in mood. The characters initially express determination to hide their budding romance, but affirm and celebrate it in the second act. During Lonergan’s verse, Weintraub wordlessly captured the characters’ playfully adversarial relationship, through facial expressions and folded arms.
The bluegrass theme continued with the more recent duet “Asheville.” Edie Brickell and Steve Martin had written “When You Get to Asheville” for their 2013 album Love Has Come for You. With some lyric changes it was featured in Bright Star (2016), a musical inspired by the album. Lonergan’s skill as a guitarist stood out in this number, infusing it with a driving ostinato.
This change in idiom and vocal style, from the material that opened the concert, accentuated Weintraub’s adaptability as a singer. However, the end of the first half marked a return to the earlier era, with a suitably blithe rendition of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music (1959).
Later, a second song — a duet — from the musical was featured: “Something Good.” After Hammerstein’s death, Rodgers wrote both the music and the lyrics to the unassuming ballad for the 1965 film. (The number was re-used in the1998 Broadway revival and the 2013 NBC telecast.)
The first selection after the intermission was “Falling Slowly” from the film Once (2007), a Broadway musical adaptation of which opened five years later. The song is by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová (who portrayed musicians in the film). Lonergan credits the opportunity to attend multiple concerts by the duo (named the Swell Season) with inspiring him to play the guitar and become a performer. Weintraub and Lonergan blended well together in the song’s harmonies.
Next was “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” Mary Magdalene’s ballad from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar (1970). Weintraub’s earnest, delicate rendition struck a careful balance between giving the song sufficient vocal strength, and letting her vocal and emotional power build gradually, so that it could peak right after Lonergan’s guitar interlude.
Written by Anaïs Mitchell, Hadestown (2019) retells the ancient Greek myth in which Orpheus visits the underworld to rescue his fiancée Eurydice. In “All I’ve Ever Known,” Eurydice weighs the dichotomy between her independence and her deepening affection for Orpheus. Not unlike “Asheville,” “All I’ve Ever Known” has a breezy melody in a folk-pop idiom, which Weintraub and Lonergan clearly enjoyed performing.
Written in a similar style is “Only Us,” a duet by Justin Paul and Benj Pasek for Dear Evan Hansen (2016). Pasek and Paul also wrote the songs for The Greatest Showman, and “Only Us” is somewhat reminiscent of “A Million Dreams” from that film.
Big Fish (2013) is adapted from Tim Burton’s film of the same name (for which the musical’s librettist John August also had written the screenplay), which in turn is based on Daniel Wallace’s novel. Composer and lyricist Andrew Lippa’s score includes a tender ballad, “I Don’t Need a Roof,” which highlighted Weintraub’s ability to shape and seamlessly phrase a musical line, propelling each one with a gradual increase in volume and a pleasing vibrato.
Just as “Asheville” had been a departure from the mid-century selections of the first segment, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s playfully feisty “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair” from South Pacific (1949) interrupted the second half’s contemporary focus (“for all of you long-term couples out there,” joked Weintraub). Although she stood in place, Weintraub enlivened the number with energetic movement that recalled her rendition of “Almost Like Being in Love.”
That energy was present in the duo’s closing number: the rousing “I Feel the Earth Move.” Written and performed by Carole King in 1971, the song appears in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (2014). With its steady, pulsing beat the song gave Weintraub a final chance to dance in place, and showcase her vocal power. It was a rousing conclusion to a concert — by two versatile musicians — that more than lived up to its title.
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