Julian Eaves reviews Adam Pascal appearing with Seth Rudetsky as part of The Seth Concert Series Online.
The Seth Concert Series: With Adam Pascal and Seth Rudetsky
Online live Sunday 20th December, repeated Monday 21st December
Seth Concert Series Website
A spooky note was struck for the depths of winter by Pascal’s busy and harrowed rendition of a, particularly soul-wracking Prologue from ‘Les Miserables’ (Schoenberg/Boublil). His is a voice that certainly sounds ‘lived in’ for a number like this: full of the pain and torment of a confused and dangerous life. How apt for our times. Do we not all quake in the fear of which dizzying height of tierfulness we are next to be exalted? Well, if nothing else, this number captures the full ugliness of human suffering.
And then the quips start. Rudetsky can usually be relied upon to reel in another breezy raconteur for this series of his, intimate chat-shows with piano and songs and a LOT of juicy-sounding, but actually rather innocuous gossip. This is also a chance for the world to catch up on the goings-on in Sethland: with careful study, it soon becomes plain that this MD does like to work again with people he already knows, and then they turn out to know a lot of the other people he knows, and so on. It’s just ‘family’! How perfect for this season of partial reunions and semi-get-togethers. If you know what I mean.
One of the great things about this show, featuring artists with magnificent singing voices, is to hear them go on, and on, and on, about what a terrible voice they have, and how they’ve never done anything to look after it, and so on. Isn’t it amazing? And then, they launch into, say, the title tune from, ‘Hair’ (Ragni, Rado, MacDermot), where the huskiness in the Pascal voice takes on a hip, funky, sixties rock’n’roll timbre. Just like that. (With a splendid top tenor register siren call thrown in.) But he’s from the manor: a dyed-in-the-wool rock musician, touting his wares to unappreciative or totally absent audiences. His is a tale of human failure.
Which is the astonishingly inspiring thing of this show: it’s all about people who come from often dubiously unpropitious circumstances. And how the human spirit triumphs over all adversity. No matter how daunting. Then, as if by Broadway magic, the lure to move into musical theatre slipped into his unsuspecting world. Warner Baxter, come back, all is forgiven! So, as naturally as the night followeth the day, the walked into a part in the criminally briefly lived Jonathan Larson’s only full-scale completed musical, ‘Rent’.
Then we disappeared into one of those totally unplanned, utterly original technical ‘hitches’ that are also the hallmark of this unusual enterprise. These are actually quite part-and-parcel of the experience, which always contrives to have the most impromptu and improvised feel about it, with Seth dexterously slipping his guests the odd curveball, or being floored by some unexpected revelation! It’s deliciously fun and warms away the long winter night better than half a gallon of bourbon.
Better than that, then we got, ‘Finale B’, from, ‘Rent’, which Adam sang to his own acoustic guitar accompaniment, giving the performance a rustic, country-like feel to it (think, ‘Girl From The North Country’). This is music that still casts a great shadow in front of it. Other writers for the musical theatre, even those coming from the world of rock music, find it a puzzle to get around. You can’t copy it, nor pretend it never happened; but where does theatre go after a door swings open like that… and then immediately closes?
‘Aida’ (Elton John/Tim Rice) is part of the response. ‘Elaborate Lives’ is a smooth tenor power ballad for Pascal, especially with Seth pitching in with some really well-modulated harmonies: there is a Bowie-like wispiness hiding in the brazen, shiny notes of Adam’s performance, lending no end of complexity to this remarkable event, and this is where guests really score well in a situation of this kind, when they can keep taking the audience by surprise, unveiling yet another twist or turn in their journey. Which brought us, simmeringly, into a gorgeous pair of Kander and Ebb tunes, one from a show he played on Broadway, ‘Cabaret’, ‘Maybe This Time’, given a soulfully intimate reading, before merging into the other, ‘I Don’t Care Much’, a song written during a dinner party for a bet – here, it sounds like a waltz into cynical resignation.
From there, into the wonderfully emotional territory of Tim Rice and Benny Andersen and Bjoern Ulvaeus’, ‘Pity The Child’, from their international blockbuster, ‘Chess’: Pascal breathily understates its dimensions, bringing its pathos down into a hushed confessional, before opening up the dramatic territory in a splendidly theatrical finish. Not for nothing did this song become a hit. In the hands of a really, really good singing actor, it’s magnificent.
All this world-weary jadedness, however, was warmed away with a few minutes from, ‘Memphis’ (another favourite on this show, by David Bryan and Joe DiPietro), and the 11 o’clock number, ‘Memphis Lives In Me’. It’s a great number, strumming away in the heart long after the sounds of it have died away. Parker McGee’s ‘I’d Really Love To See You Tonight’ and ‘I Can’t Live, If Living Is Without You’ (Pete Ham and Tom Evans, writing for Badfinger) formed a resounding finale to this concert, another pair of rock songs that have found their way to the musical theatre, as indeed so many people have, too.
Then,… another ‘outage’ for Adam. (If this were the real world, he’d get a chance to go off and change his shirt or something.) Here, Adam remembers how he used to sing, ‘Glory’, in ‘Rent’. But, before we got to that, we had to do another guitar-led number, ‘It’s Hard’, a number with all the usual Pete Townsend flourishes, crisp lyrics and driving harmonic progressions, chased all over with brittle rhythmic effects. A gem!
And then we closed indeed with, ‘One Song, Glory’, from the ever-essential, ‘Rent’. A prize performance. A perfect gift.