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Listen To My Heart: The Songs of David Friedman
By Brad Bradley
 David Feldman (at piano) and the cast of<i> Listen to My Heart.
David Friedman (at piano) and the cast of Listen to My Heart. (Photo:Carol Rosegg )

David Friedman's songs often are concise dramas in themselves as well as comfortable melodies that long linger in the mind. Little wonder that countless singers, well-known and otherwise, in both small cabarets and enormous concert halls, have loved to sing them for years. However, Friedman's work in theaters has endured a woefully low profile, and the current splendid revue of his work, eponymously entitled Listen to My Heart: The Songs of David Friedman may go some way to bring his highly entertaining work to that often passionate and loyal audience.

There is no dialogue whatsoever in the evening, yet each song presented becomes a dramatic nugget into itself. In several cases, numbers are positioned to create a thematic link to the next one up. Director Mark Waldrop, an expert at showcasing unusual musical material (the recent Bea Arthur nostalgiafest on Broadway, a Bette Midler tour, and the deleriously funny revue When Pigs Fly are among his credits), does a wonderful job of creating a cohesive show out of material that is drawn from numerous assorted projects in Friedman's substantial career thus far. The theatrical arrangement of material first capitalizes on buoyant musicality coupled with tenderness of feeling, in the second act supplementing those qualities with more raw emotion and a sometimes darker mood. A major accomplishment of Waldrop's adroit staging is the infusion of appropriate comic, often ironic contexts to the songs via clever stage business; also, both his intuitive pacing and imaginative use of a limited stage space are unexcelled.

The performance begins quietly, Friedman alone at his keyboard, accompanying himself to "Trust the Wind," a hopeful and tender song that was inspired by his longtime muse, the late lamented singer's singer, Nancy LaMott. Soon, Friedman is joined by his quintet of vocalists for a nurturing choral backup. Two of that talented group, Michael Hunsaker and Anne Runolfsson, follow with luscious romantic solos. Hunsaker, a fetching blond hunk, has a lovely sound and a captivating stage presence. (Where was he when the recent Oklahoma! revival had casting calls? One is hard pressed to imagine a more ideal Curly.) Here, his solo " I Can Hold You" is nothing short of a perfect romantic call. Ms. Runolfsson, a beauty with a polished stage technique, shines on both "What I Was Dreamin' Of" and "Nothing in Common." The two share "Two Different Worlds," a riotously raunchy duet staged in part atop the Steinway grand.

A welcome brassy element is added when the full-throated Allison Briner takes the stage. Added to that impressive lyrical display, we get both comedy and an unforgettable belt voice in the person of Alix Korey, an acerbic powderkeg who is an expert at winning an audience. Friedman's frequent collaborator, she already has commercially recorded a number of his songs. In one appearance, Korey resoundingly stops the show when her searing rendition of "My Simple Wish," a double-edged lament, sends the audience into apoplectic pandemonium. She's a comic triumph on every song entrusted to her, yet a perfect back-up singer as well. The very versatile Joe Cassidy rounds out the onstage talent, a strong voice that readily adapts to a variety of song styles.

The title tune becomes almost an anthem as fervently sung in the first act finale. Then and in numerous other melodies, the show's musical power is surprisingly rich, with the onstage piano supplemented by both uncredited and unseen additional instrumentation, perhaps pre-recorded and/or electronically generated. Unfortunately, the sound design seems to have been geared to a hard-of-hearing audience. Many over 40 may opt for earplugs to soften the often unnecessary amplification, which sometimes puts a jarring shrillness on the high notes.

Other production elements are perfect, from Michael Anania's multi-leveled set design to Matt Berman's richly textured lighting. Unobtrusive yet attractive contemporary costuming has been provided by Markas Henry.
LISTEN TO MY HEART: The Songs of David Friedman
Music and lyrics by David Friedman
Directed by Mark Waldrop
Cast: Allison Briner, Joe Cassidy, David Friedman, Michael Hunsaker, Alix Korey, and Anne Runolfsson.
Set Design: Michael Anania
Costume Design: Markas Henry
Lighting and Sound Design: Matt Berman
Running time: Approx. 1 and 3/4 hours with intermission
Upstairs at Studio 54: 254 West 54th Street. 223/ 239-6200.
Tuesday, Thursday & Friday @8pm, Wednesday @2pm & 8pm, Saturday @7pm & 10pm, Sunday @3pm
10/09/03 through 4/25/04; opened 10/23/03 -- $60 and $65.Reviewed by Brad Bradley based on October 21st press preview

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