Julian Eaves reviews Matt Doyle – this week’s guest on The Seth Rudetsky Online Concert series.
Matt Doyle and Seth Rudetsky
The Seth Online Concert Series
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The show kicked off with a warmly vibrating acapella introduction to Jason Robert Brown’s seminal folksy ballad, ‘It All Fades Away’, from the rustic-set, ‘The Bridges of Madison County’. Doyle has an appealingly commercial hard 2nd tenor voice, with a slight tendency to nasal vowel sounds in the upper register, and a brisk chatty manner, ready to trade backstage stories. He also has a slightly shifty look in his eyes, which slither calculatingly this way and that, so much so that one almost expects there to flick from his mouth a forked tongue.
Be that as it may, one of his stories included some hot new talent indeed: Ryan Scott Oliver, whose, ‘Jasper in Deadland’, was a gig that Doyle also worked (for those of you not in the know, this is yet another re-hashing of the old Greek Gods in their Underworld trope – and, yes, there have been quite a lot of new shows like that lately, haven’t there?). From this, the number, ‘Stroke by Stroke’, was given to us: perfectly matched to Doyle’s light, pop-ish voice, although it seems to call for a rather heavier, more stadium-filling belter.
From one over-tilled furrow to another: the super-hero musical, with a lead who wants to… ‘Fly’! More very efficient, well-modulated vocals from our guest. His intonation was firmer here (the earlier numbers had suffered a bit from occasionally insecure pitching). Then again, ‘One Song Glory’, from Jonathan Larson’s ‘Rent’ got a very reliable, a very ‘sound’ rendering. And from there we sauntered into something from, ‘Spring Awakening’ (Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater): ‘All That’s Known’, is a typically angst-ridden trawl through unresolved emotions for the tortured co-lead, Melchior.
The odd thing about these shows is that while they demand massive emotionalism in performance, and are understood by fans – at least – to have something approaching the mystical power of revealed scripture, when the guests on this show get to talking about them, it’s most often with a carefree flippancy that knocks them into a cocked hat. Show by show, this casualness builds up, to the extent that the listener is left feeling, ‘Well, if it doesn’t matter to you, why should it matter to anyone?’ Nor are we helped by intermittent bursts of, ‘Oh, I LOVE this song!’ Whenever an artist makes that claim, I inevitably want to know… WHY? (If only they could tell us.)
More astringency was furnished by Sondheim’s rhapsodic, ‘Joanna’, from ‘Sweeney Todd’. This is where the breathy, beating Doyle voice really felt unmatched to the long legato lines, which cry out for decent support and control. But he only had to sing it in the Off-Broadway transfer of the ‘immersive’ production from the Tooting Arts Club: I saw that show when it was on Shaftesbury Avenue, and it was very intimate indeed – the kind of place where you could get away with murder.
More issues with breath shortages and vocal tightness appeared in ‘Something’s Comin” from ‘West Side Story’ (Sondheim only, Bernstein didn’t do the music for this number). More pop material surfaced courtesy of Hughie Lewis’s tunes pumped into ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’: Doyle sang, ‘If This Is It’, with flair and clarity, his voice a perfect match for the impetuous narcissism of youth that is the life-blood of rock music.
The sheer over-familiarity of most of this rep, however, combined with the autobiographical traipse format of the show, interleaved with stories of gossip and reminiscence, gradually sapped energy from the show. Doyle sang, ‘Being Alive’, from ‘Company’ (the third helping of Sondheim), tidily and with deft articulation, but with a voice suited to being in a small room with a single piano.
The MD, Seth Rudetsky, of course, can make that piano sound like any kind of band. And next up, he did the ‘Book of Mormon’ rip-off of, ‘I Have Confidence’ from ‘The Sound of Music’: ‘I Believe’ (Trey, Parker, Stone), which lies at the uncomfortable upper limit of our Matt’s range. He got through it – just – in this show, but how he would cope with doing 8 performances of it a week, one would not care to speculate.
But, then, we got a welcome change of direction and Bob Dylan’s, ‘To Make You Feel My Love’ (which happens to be his gran’s favourite song). This was sweetly sung, and well played. And then back to warhorses of the musical stage and, ‘I Got’, from ‘Hair’ (Ragni, Rado, MacDermot), which was given a very decent, non-monotonous shot.
All in all, ninety minutes with plenty of great numbers in it, but such things do not a completely satisfying recital make, when they are not supported by any other visible means.