Hopelessly In Love: The Lyrics of Tom Toce
October 10 and 28; November 10, 2012
By Robert Windeler – BistroAwards.com Reviews (source)
“Hopelessly in Love” is a triple pun. It can mean, roughly, “besotted with the right person,” or “inevitably involved with the wrong one,” or “determined to be in love no matter what.” The touching and witty lyrics of Tom Toce deal with all sides of this tri-partite title concept, as virtually all of the numbers in this 19-song set make very clear. The music to each of these songs is by 12 different composers, including two each by Toce himself, Kim Oler, and Jeff Lazarus, and three each by Douglas J. Cohen and Zina Goldrich. Thus the variety is greater in the music than in the words. Three stalwart singers, nicely backed by musical director Matthew Martin Ward on piano and Boots Maleson on bass, also contribute their inimitable styles toward mostly avoiding any sense of sameness to the presentation.
Vocalists Carol J. Bufford, Jack Donahue and Jennifer Sheehan open the show promisingly with two trios: “Listen” (composed by Goldrich) and “Hopelessly in Love” (Cohen). Sheehan, who continues to dazzle with the range and variety of her vocals and lyric interpretations beyond her years, goes on to deliver four memorable solos. The first is a haunting number with music by Peter Millrose, “Say You’ll Remember.” Lamenting one more lost love, Toce’s beautiful lyrics implore, “Please don’t let me be the one you regret/ Say that you’ll remember so that I can forget.” Sheehan also drew the second-best song in the show, “You Make Me Laugh” (Shelly Markham), extolling this too-often- overlooked key element of a successful lasting relationship. In “The Wrong Man” (Cohen), the singer’s life and romance are based on the movies, but she dreams of Cary Grant and ends up with Peter Lorre. “You Believe in Me” (Goldrich) could have been just another song about a life view based on fairy tales, but Sheehan infuses it with something more.
On the other hand, Bufford and Donahue, in their solos at least, often seem more concerned with big delivery than in exploring lyrics, even playing to a non-existent balcony in this intimate venue. On satirical numbers this overblown approach can be effective. Bufford scores with “Bye-Bye, Aloha, Yo!” (Lazarus), celebrating a woman’s cutting and running after a bad romance instead of staying in it “to keep the friggin’ score,” as she used to do. She also elicited the laughs in “Shalom, Santa” (Cohen), a ditty about the dilemma of a daughter of a “lapsed Catholic and a cultural Jew” leading to Toce’s droll conclusion: “I wish I had a faith I could have faith in.” Donahue dances and sings the calypso “Got to Learn to Emote” (Lazarus) with great panache. But seeing his somewhat strident delivery of “That’s What I Like About the Rain” (Alan Wolpert), a sad ballad about sky water purging “till none of the memories remain,” I kept thinking to myself, “Why is this man smiling?” On “After All” (Oler), which he otherwise sang straight, in a deep baritone, he couldn’t resist a jarring Barry Manilow-style big finish.
Donahue offers the added distraction of moving around too much on a small stage. I doubt that director Peter Napolitano had anything to do with this since he sensibly has those performers who are not singing the current number sit quietly at a table right beside the stage and moving nimbly onto and off the stage as needed. Also, the order of songs and the interspersing of ballads and uptempo numbers makes perfect sense and a fluid presentation. Napolitano may be complicit, however, in pianist Ward’s singing one-line introductions to many of the songs; these are often unintelligible, always raspy, and seem unrelated to the song we’re about to hear. In any event they are wildly unnecessary.
Unquestionably, highlight of the performance I saw was guest artist Andrea Marcovicci singing “The Night I Fell in Love with Paris,” also composed by Toce, which is the best song in the show. (The guest artist at each performance is kept secret until show time, but she or he always sings this song.) In it, Toce pays deserved tribute to the multitude of I Love You/I Love Paris songs of the past, setting it under “a croissant moon” on June 21, the longest day of he year. But he also updates those chestnuts with modern references to American British and Irish rock (Nirvana, U2). Sitting still on a stool, Marcovicci, accompanied by Markham, ignored none of the number’s nuances and understatedly offered a master class in selling a song.
Toce himself appears only at the end of the set to offer thanks and introduce his collaborators on stage, his director, guest artist and those composers who happen to be in the audience.