The Songs of

Catalina's Jazz Club
Hollywood, CA
Imagine Rodgers and Hammerstein hosting an evening featuring a bunch of young singers performing their songs for an avid audience of fans — with Rodgers at the piano and Hammerstein singing solo and backup — and you’ll have some idea of what lyricist Kait Kerrigan and composer Brian Lowdermilk pulled off.

The team has written several shows — some produced regionally, others not at all — and some stand-alone material that is popular with a young-skewing audience that came from as far away as Mexico City to see the show.  Many of the songs speak of the process — and accompanying fears — of turning from child to adult, and many are character songs that provide opportunities for brilliant and exciting performances, as was evidenced in this show.

Among the evening’s standouts was Zach Altman, an opera singer using his booming, resonant voice to stunning effect on two virtual arias from Republic, an as-yet unfinished musical version of Shakespeare’s Henry IV set in Ireland in the 1970s: “Rise,” an uplifting ballad in which the young Hal, a member of the IRA, promises to “lead my country … and I will rise“; and the inspirational “One Last Prayer” (reminiscent of “One More Day” from Les Misérables), in which Hal declares, “Why pray when there’s nothing left to pray for/But your eyes lift to God as you despair/There’s hope in one last prayer.”

Laura Dickinson nearly stopped the show with her strong performance of “Avalanche” from Tales from the Bad Years — a song about the power of love that built from a simple opening to a powerful, soaring crescendo.

The evening also featured two non-show songs written by each of member of the team for friends’ weddings:  Lowdermilk’s “Hand in Hand” (“Say you’ll wear a matching wedding band/Say we’ll be hand in hand”), a driving, pop-sounding number with a pounding beat sung well by Telly Leung; and Kerrigan’s “Berkeley,” an odd song for a wedding because it extolled the virtues of the Northern California city where her friend lived (“It’s a misty-eyed God who thought of sequoia trees/There’s something about Berkeley”), sung in a mellow style by Nathan Tysen.

Max Ehrich was terrific singing “Barcelona,” about the regrets of a broken relationship as reflected in the foreign trips never taken — a powerful, emotional song that should be high on cabaret singers’ to-do lists, and Melissa Benoist, from TV’s Glee, showed off a big, big voice on “Freedom” from The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown.

There was also an amusing duet called “Vegas” — about two dudes imagining an exciting Saturday night adventure — sung by Barrett Foa and Randy Blair, and, as a finale, “Holding On,” a haunting anthem to growing up from Tales from the Bad Years (“The earth keeps turning/ The light keeps shifting/And I keep holding on”) sung by the entire cast.

Music was provided by Brent Crayon, alternating with Lowdermilk, on piano, plus Matt Lucich on drums, Dave Wood on guitar, Carter Wallace on bass, Ambroise Aubrun on violin and Hillary Smith, who provided some very effective accents on several songs, on cello.  The show was produced by Chris Isaacson.

Elliot Zwiebach
Cabaret Scenes
January 20, 2013