Brent Barrett has appeared on Broadway in Grand Hotel and Chicago, off-Broadway in March of the Falsettos and the original production of Maltby and Shire’s Closer Than Ever and, for New York City Opera, in Brigadoon. His show recordings also include a studio version of Wonderful Town. On his first solo album he places his expressive tenor voice at the service of 15 songs by possibly the greatest and most enduring of writing teams still working in musical theatre.
The selections range from their Broadway debut, Flora The Red Menace – now probably most famous for launching the career of its 19 year old star, Liza Minnelli – to their latest effort, Over and Over, which has yet to make it to the Great White Way. Barrett is impressive on the up tempo numbers such as Second Chance (from the poorly received Steel Pier) and Chicago‘s All I Care About (on which he gets to preserve his Broadway Billy Flynn), but comes most fully into his own with the ballads. You won’t find better recorded versions of Woman Of The Year‘s lovely Sometimes A Day Goes By or The Happy Time‘s underrated Seeing Things. His version of A Quiet Thing (from Flora), accompanied by John Kander at the piano, is delightful in its warmth, simplicity and lightness of touch.
There is a stirring Life Is (from Zorba) and a sexy duet with Jane Krakowskii on Steel Pier‘s Wet. Indeed, Barrett’s versions of both songs from this last show make them sound more impressive than they did on the original cast recording and might even prompt re-evaluation of a score often
deemed somewhat disappointing by Kander and Ebb’s own impressive standards. Of particular interest is the first recording of No, My Heart, a pretty Noel Coward pastiche written for Rosemary Harris to sing in a 1985 revival of Hay Fever. From the new Over and Over comes its original title song, The Skin of Our Teeth. Based on Thornton Wilder’s play of that title, the show premiered at Virginia’s little Signature Theatre early in 1999 and probably has some way to go before it will reach Broadway. The song itself is an anthem, somewhat in the style of Kiss Of The Spider Woman’s The Day After That and seems unlikely to be typical of the score as a whole.
The choice of material on The Kander & Ebb Album is appropriate to Barrett’s ringing voice and singer and songs generally bring out the best in each other. Only Spider Woman‘s Gimme Love seems ill suited to his style – or perhaps it just doesn’t play well when lifted out of it’s film-within-a-show setting and shorn of its campy production and Chita Rivera’s indefatigable old-school showbiz smarts.
Barrett is undoubtedly one of the finest ‘legit’ voices in contemporary musical theatre and one can only hope that this is the first of many recordings. The Porter/Sondheim/Bernstein Albums anybody?
– Mark Jennett