Sunday, December 11, 2011

Applause! Applause! Review of Branom, Coris, Kurtzuba & Vreeland in "Our Life & Times" by Andrew Martin

This review of Curt Branom, Hector Coris, Stephanie Kurtzuba & Walker Vreeland in a show entitled "Our Life & Times: The Year In Musical Review" at Rose's Turn was written by Andrew Martin and appeared in Volume I, Issue 3 (January, 1998) of Applause! Applause! published by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens.

"Our Life & Times" - Branom, Coris, Kurtzuba & Vreeland
Rose's Turn (55 Grove Street, NYC)
Reviewed 1/11/98 at 6 p.m.

The cabaret community and piano bar scene were far different in the 1980's from anything today's industry leaders have known since. Erv Raible and Rob Hoskins were running Don't Tell Mama, the Duplex (located at that time at the current home of Rose's Turn), and the popular Upper East Side piano bar, Brandy's (at 235 East 84th Street, where it continues to flourish under Joe Connell's auspices). Art D'Lugoff's administration of the Village Gate made the legendary Thompson Street spot one of THE places to play. Hot acts around town included Amy Coleman, Lois Sage, RSVP, LuRain Penny, Horowitz & Spector, the improv group ForPlay, and a then-unknown comedy duo calling themselves Kathy (Najimy) and Mo (Gaffney). Sought-after piano bar talent included Robert Bendorff, Timmy Moore, Scott Traudt, Peter Gloo, Karen Miller, and many more. And everybody's favorite place to finish the evening was Grove Street's own The Five Oaks, then governed by the restaurateur-team of Jeremy Burrell and Mary Virginia Regan. It was there, among such piano bar talents as the late, lamented Marie Blake and such perpetual favorites as Bobby Peaco and Steven Lowenthal, that pianist/composer/lyricist/comic Rick Crom was playing happy hours to throngs of patrons who couldn't hold back the laughter, particularly on such numbers as "Is There A Straight Man In The House?" and letter-perfect impressions of John Denver, Neil Diamond and scores of others.

Since that time, Rick Crom has achieved pinnacle upon pinnacle of success within the areas of both cabaret and standup comedy. Appearances on and off-Broadway ("The Goodbye Girl", "Merrily We Roll Along") as an actor, and comedic appearances everywhere from Atlantic City to Las Vegas to Aspen, are joined by Crom's penning of some of Off-Broadway and cabaret's favorite political revues, including the popular "Absolutely Rude" at the Comedy Cellar several seasons ago. The gentleman's latest effort in that regard, "Our Life & Times", now runs at Rose's Turn on Saturday nights at 8 p.m., and Sunday evenings at 6 p.m., with different casts depending on the evening.

The one-hour showcase of headline-based special material is directed by the formidable Terri White, who can wholeheartedly add another string to her bow with the commandeering of this vehicle. (For those who don't know, she was the original Joice Heth in "Barnum" at the St. James, and won an Obie for the Tommy Tune-directed "The Club" at Circle in the Square Downtown.) White's intrinsic gift for theatrical direction comes through loudly and oh-so-clearly on such numbers as the bouncy paean to prescription drugs, "Prozac, Ritalin, Fen-Phen", and the MAC Award-nominated "The Army Song".

The cast seen by your humble reviewer was a mixed bag at best. Of the three young gentlemen and one young lady, it is only Hector Coris who seems to show an on-stage gift for revue presentation (as was similarly witnessed three seasons ago by your humble reporter during Hal Cohen's brilliant "The Musical Enquirer", directed by Leonard Jacobs at Rose's Turn). However, cast member Walker Vreeland receives more than just an ample opportunity to shine on the scrumptious "Trailer Park Paula" as the one-and-only Paula Jones, most often coming across like a musical version of Mark McKinney on "Kids In The Hall". Stephanie Kurtzuba scores not once but twice in particular; she manages to top the exquisite "Chelsea in College" (with herself as the First Daughter at Stanford) with what may well be the finest number of the evening, the more-than-simply-tuneful "El Nino". Only Curt Branom seems out of place -- his rendering of the otherwise marvelous "Dr. Jack Kervorkian" would most obviously have been better served with composer Crom's vocals, and his impression of Mike Tyson simply doesn't cut it. In fact, the overall problem with the show seems to be that the musical and lyrical material severely outshines the ability of the cast, and even that material manages to be a mite too predictable in scant spots (such as a bit about the knighting of Elton John).

However, as national headlines change, so too will the content of the material showcased in "Our Life & Times". The show, therefore, is not only worth seeing once for the experience, but returning later on to experience the collective genius of Rick Crom and Terri White. The show has the chance to run for a very, very long time -- make it thy business to get there while you can.

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