Julian Eaves reviews Beth Malone as she joins Seth Rudetsky in the latest of the Seth Concert Series now streaming online.
The Seth Concert Series with Beth Malone
Visit Seth’s Website
Andrew Lippa’s ‘The Life of the Party’ made a delicious curtain-raiser for this, the latest in the smash-hit series of Seth Rudetsky’s perfectly wonderful cabaret chat-shows, given special pizzazz-factor, coming in on the heels of a please-go-out-and-vote spot by our MD with all the right attitudes (the only R-Level we really want to hear about is that from Mr Rudetsky). But what a change to switch from that into a husky, bar-fly croon of ‘Just In Time’ (Jule Styne, Betty Comden/Adolph Green), inspired by Judy Garland – although it was written for that other Judy, Holliday. Beth, though, enabled her voice to start sounding a little more like Jerry Southern after waaaay too many martinis. Such flexibility! It is a stand-out feature of these concerts (with almost no exceptions) that Seth selects artists who have a breathtakingly broad command of technique, able to turn their voice from one genre to another and always sound completely true to whatever they happen to be singing at the moment. Singing… or being!
A big part of Malone’s life, as well as work, is her whole-hearted commitment to the LGBTQ+ world, for whom (and for others) she does about 50 benefit concerts every year. And it was great to hear her talk about this, especially since it reveals the fact that she found her soul-mate, who was to become her wife, Shelley, at the tender age of 22. (And, yes, all these years later, they are still wed.) Another number, a pop song, ‘Where Are You Now?’, by Randy Kylin (possibly?) – was so awesome! A really beautiful, simple, tender ballad, full of big feelings, and a voice with clarity, exactitude and heart to sing it. It was the right music to speak the voice of the searching, questing heart.
‘On My Own’ (Schoenberg/Boublil) was a similar ballad, but given a velvet touch, fringed with country-and-western, and yet also enriched with the drama of a great struggle. This kicked us into altogether rougher terrain with, ‘I Need A Old-Fashioned Lesbian Love Story’, and another dose of Andrew Lippa knowing altogether far more about human nature than most writers can ever pretend to. It’s a bit like Tom Lehrer meets Jerry Herman. Just go with it. Malone can do this kind of manic cabaret spoof number with the same conviction as she embraces all her other material: because it’s GOOD material, of course – she just doesn’t do anything less than totally out of this world incredible. Very New York City!
And then we went straight into the next batch of Broadway chit-chat, revealing the crazy, madcap world of auditions and castings and try-outs and stuff. ‘I Quit’ is the audition song to end ALL audition songs, and it was given great attention here, with a suitably virtuoso ‘turn’ by our Beth. David Dyer’s lucid, gentle arrangement for, ‘Unruly Heart’ (from Matthew Skylar and Chad Beguelin’s ‘The Prom’), made a beautifully judged contrast, giving more air and space for Malone’s bold and full-voiced country siren, revelling in the refrain, ‘You will be found’, offering a strident and passionate affirmation of optimism and endurance, qualities she really and truly embodies.
As if to prove that point, up next, ‘The Life I Never Lived’, from Alan Menken and Glen Slater’s ‘Sister Act’, made a nice and tidy change of tone: more steel came into Malone’s voice for this, but still the same impeccable care with the phrasing and characterising of the lyric’s story. It’s a world away, however, from the extraordinarily different approach taken by ‘Fun Home’ (Lisa Kron/Jenine Tesori), with their remarkably fresh and radical method of writing for the voice. Malone picks it apart here, showing how a singer confronts and reacts to what they have written: writing knee-deep in a hyper-naturalistic interpretation of the characters and their expressivity. Caitlin Caruso was this week’s winner of the competition, and she showed us a great clip of ‘Ring Of Keys’. But ‘Maps’ is an even more challenging number, needing an immense range of skills from the performer, finding and releasing the lyricism in the music, while stitching together the narrative in an ever-new, constant unfolding. Tesori is a genius for spinning lines of melody into her musical textures, without ever letting the tune dictate where the music itself – and the story – may be going. And it goes everywhere. In spite of her many award-wins, Tesori is still a really staggeringly under-rated composer: but she is really right up there with the very best.
Up there with Meredith Willson, whose ‘The Unsinkable Molly Brown’ picked up our spirits with the heroine’s indomitable ‘I Ain’t Down Yet’, a veritable parade down State and Main with all the hoopla of the fourth of July. All this was lovely. And it brought us back to, ‘Ring Of Keys’ given the Beth Malone treatment, showing her startling ability to move from one intensely powerful emotion to another, without missing a beat. Perfection!