Julian Eaves reviews Seth Rudetsky and Keala Settle in the latest of the Seth Online Concert Series streamed this week.
The Seth Concert Series: starring Keala Settle and Seth Rudetsky
Kicking off with ‘Just One Dream’ (Walter Afanasieff/John Bettis), Keala took us straight into cutesy, pop-cred Disneyland, packing it choc-full of soul and endlessly varied phrasing that kept us leaning into to know her better. What a wonderful sound! Her background, in the Pacific islands (think Hawaii, and then … think again), was saturated with every kind of music, reaching from 40s Hollywood stars to classical divas to gospel and the hit parade. And right on top of that, she took our breath away by switching into a lighter-than-air, ‘Don’t Cry For Me’ (Keith Thomas/Benjamin Winans), sung as a valedictory piece for all those we have lost in recent times, and whose passing we have been unable to mark with the attention and expression we would have liked; she took us on a powerful emotional journey, gently threading silvery steel into her voice, but keeping the elegiac beauty of the melody floating above our heads. Heavenly.
Then the tone changed again: straight into ‘I Had The Craziest Dream’ (Harry Warren/Mack Gordon)! What versatility, breathing all that 1943 sentiment into palpitating life again. And more: ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’ (maybe the best song from ‘Grease’?.. written by Jim Jacobs/Warren Casey). Delivered with APLOMB! But she didn’t stop there! Oh, no. We soared into Mabel’s, ‘Poor Wand’ring One’ from Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘The Pirates of Penzance’, complete with glittering soprano coloratura, all perfectly characterised and utterly distinct. Can this really all come from the same mortal set of pipes? It seems incredible: but it’s TRUE! Ending with a SPECTACULAR Kathryn Grayson-style high D! Bang on the money!! Glorious fun, and marvellously thrilling.
Next, through a bracing discussion of theatre, and how you get into it, and what it means to you, and how you relate to the stories you are telling, we arrived – naturally enough – at the gender-switch ‘Company’, with a rendition, in yet another voice, of Bobbie’s ‘Being Alive’ (Sondheim). Settle has Barbara Cook’s breath control mixed with a brassy belt that just shakes you right up! It’s magic. And so are her stories: another great one about her debut in ‘Hairspray’ went down a treat. So we got, from that show, ‘Good Morning, Baltimore’ (Marc Shaimann/Scott Wittmann), with Seth pulling in some nifty harmonies.
After all that drama, we shimmied into much more subtle territory, ‘If I Had My Way’ (Frank Wildhorn/Jack Murphy/Linda Eder); a luscious ballad, given dignity, heart and the tenderest vulnerability in yet another fabulous performance by this great performer. Left feeling wobbly by the sheer gorgeousness of it, we got into ‘the current situation’, and then a solo version of a duet from ‘Hands on a Hardbody’ (Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green – who was herself present in the chat column!), which offered an amazing song, ‘I’m Gone’, working perfectly as a solo number here. It’s the kind of song you could just listen to all day.. especially when sung by this amazing singer. She also worked her spell on ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ from ‘Les Miserables’ (Schoenberg/Boublil), another anthem with a profoundly humane and compassionate message – two qualities that have fallen by the bitter wayside in too many parts of today’s world.
What a sweet change then to stray into, ‘I’ll Be Your Candle On The Water’ (Al Kasha/Joel Hirschhorn), from ‘Pete’s Dragon’, inspired by the way it was sung by Helen Reddy, another great icon for Keala, and for whom she found another colour in her astonishing voice. And then came another! The sassy, thumping, rasping rock, ‘My Body’ from ‘The Life’ (Cy Coleman/Ira Gasman). But to close, we had to come back to ‘The Greatest Love Of All’ (Michael Masser/Linda Creed), dished out with Diana Ross lyricism and Aretha Franklin energy. Settle’s voice spans so much music, it almost BECOMES music. Stunning!