Tuesday, July 16, 2013

There's a Fine Fine Line, Part 2

Welcome back to Musical Mondays!
Last week, I started with "Close Every Door" from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and you can read it if you like, here:
Fine, Fine Line Between a Good Performance...and a Bad One -- Part 1

This week, another one of my favorite songs, from one of my favorite musicals:
Feed me.
The song is the duet "Suddenly Seymour", and this performance was one of the reasons, I wanted to start the old Blog in the first place. Even when I was a kid, watching the performance on Bravo's Best of Broadway, I knew something was...wrong...

It's probably the most recognizable duet in all musical theatre. It's arguably the most fun. Seymour and Audrey are fun characters and the whole show is more or less a punk rock musical at its finest. Despite its reckless abandon, it has quite a bit of heart, unlike similar musicals to it, like Rocky Horror.

I got to do the musical my sophomore year in high school, playing Seymour, with my best friend Roger as the Dentist, big guy Bryan as Audrey II (those who know Bryan know he fits "Twoey" perfectly), and another friend Larry as Mr. Mushnik and it was my second favorite show I was ever in.
I've gotten to see Anthony Rapp as Seymour, as well as the immortal Joey Fatone as Seymour, who I would've loved to have had on this entry, but inexplicably (to me, your mileage may vary), Fatone was serviceable in the role!
I also have both the original cast recording, which is a wonderful listen for Lee Wilkof as Seymour, Ellen Greene (who also stars in the movie) as Audrey, and Ron Taylor voicing Twoey, and the revival cast recording which features the equally talented Hunter Foster as Seymour, Kerry Butler as Audrey (doing what I would argue is the first successful, non-Ellen Greene impression in the role), and Douglas Sills as Orin the dentist. It also restores Call Back in the Morning, even though that's a much more visual number, uses the more up to date arrangement of Mushnik and Son, and the extended arrangement of the opening number that appeared in the film (which I love).

Mandy Moore & Adam Pascal sing "Suddenly Seymour"
I can't think of a more inexplicable sentence to utter aloud than "Mandy Moore and Adam Pascal sing "Suddenly Seymour."" But that's what happened on this Bravo special.
- :14 - Right off the bat, Mandy, if you're a huge fan of Adam Pascal, just say you love Rent. Let's not diffuse what little credibility you have left with "I'm a huge fan of Rent and stuff."
- :30 - I love Adam Pascal, I really do, but he's just not suited to this role. He looks too handsome, he sounds too sure, and it just looks wrong. Also, please note the floor fan Mandy is sitting in. Because Drama.
- 1:06 - I feel like this modulation is out of sorts. It doesn't flow well with the feeling of the song, and it feels like too much of a confident choice, acting-wise, for Seymour.
- 1:26 - I mean, it doesn't really need to be said. Mandy's voice is so thin she's working extremely hard to get out this incredibly simple verse. There's no power behind her notes.
- 1:32 - Pascal's best acting he's ever done: acting like he's okay with being on this special.
- 1:39 - If the Audrey decides to play it safe through that opening verse, she can cut loose on the first big note of the chorus here. But Mandy doesn't. She loses it with this nasally mix that makes the song sound way bigger than her.
- 1:54 - Oof, Mandy loses most of the big notes here, either from shallow breathing or improper placement. The note especially on 'condescend' is frightening.
- The rest of the song just makes me uncomfortable to watch. Mandy stays in the same breathy four notes the whole time, when she should be the more dynamic voice, and Pascal's stage presence is as awkward as ever.
A disappointing showing, perhaps expected from Mandy, but not from Pascal. 

Seth Rudetsky & Julia Murney perform "Suddenly Seymour" 
I first learned of Seth Rudetsky through Legally Blonde: The Search for Elle Woods, one of the terrible star search shows I mentioned in the last Musical Mondays. But Rudetsky, the vocal coach, was engaging, flamboyant, opinionated, and knowledgeable. He also has a YouTube channel where he vocally deconstructs awesome Broadway performances. I first heard Julia Murney, live, as Elphaba on tour in Wicked. She can also be heard on The Wild Party. These two are amazing.
- Actual song starts: 1:13.
- First off, I love Seth accompanying himself. Obviously, not every Seymour could do that, nor is it quite fitting, character-wise, but it's a nice touch. Seth also possesses the voice you'd expect Seymour to have. It's almost spoken, most of his opening verse.
- 2:10 - To steal a phrase from Seth himself, I'm absolutely obsessed with his riff down on 'suddenly Seymour.' I think it fits the musical style much more, it's unexpected, and Seth just does it great.
- 2:24 - Love it or hate it, That's not Julia's real voice, she's doing the "Greene-esque" impression.
- 2:44 - There's the power Mandy was missing in the first video. Julia drops the impression slightly (which I believe was done as a joke anyway) and shows the real power of her voice. It has this incredible ping to it, as you'll hear throughout. It's never too thin, but it sounds incredibly high in placement.
- 3:01 - An incredibly clean belt and vibrato on 'condescend', followed by a rock growl on 'suddenly', and then a return to the Greene mousiness for 'Seymour.' I love actors who can manipulate their voices so quickly, and I think this is a great moment.
- 3:27 - Julia duplicates the riff down on 'understand that' that Seth did earlier, and it's just as good.
- 3:41 - I love the way Julia hits the note for 'purified', the placement's incredible.
- 3:45 - I love Seth's riff on 'purified' in the echo. It's a pretty gospel-like riff.
- Please to enjoy the rest.
What makes this performance especially fun to watch, despite bootleg quality camera work, is that the performers are having fun doing it. The Mandy/Pascal effort just looks stiff and uncomfortable. Seth on piano, Julia doing a wild voice, it's just awesome. The back-up singers are better too, at times you can hear the girls outsing the leads. It's hard to beat Julia as an actor, and I think Seth gets extra simply for doing a great performance while also accompanying himself.

To redeem Mandy a bit, here she sings with a different Pascal, and I'll just leave you with one of my favorite vocal performances of hers:
Thanks, and see you all next week!