Leonard Bernstein was a master genius. Composer, conductor, writer, author, pianist -- you name it. His accomplishments are fresh in my mind thanks to the crash course I received in Bernstein's brilliance via Hershey Felder's one man show, Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein, which played at the Royal George theatre last season.
And in the 60-minute cabaret revue now playing at Davenport's Piano Bar and Cabaret, One Hand, One Heart: The Musicals of Leonard Bernstein, we get a small but satisfyingly representative sampling of his highly eclectic work as primarily a theatre writer.
To put it this way, there are only two songs from West Side Story included in the set list. While WSS is indeed a masterwork, we've heard it before. Why not celebrate his, perhaps, lesser-known but equally accomplished contributions, such as the flop musical 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, which was Bernstein's last original Broadway score and lasted only seven performances, or his musical version of Peter Pan, which was never produced in full?
Conceived by Christopher Pazdernik, this revue takes even greater risks by tasking his three singers and pianist to perform a few numbers from Bernstein's Mass, which was originally written for a full choir, rock band, marching band, and orchestra.
The result is nothing short of thrilling. Pazdernik has assembled a quartet of excellent musicians, including alto/mezzo Sarah Hayes, baritenor Adam Fane and soprano Christin Boulette, backed by James Morehead's excellent music direction and accompaniment. Each gets their moment to shine, with standouts including Boulette's sparkling and wry delivery of "Glitter and Be Gay," Hayes' "100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man" and Fane's vampy delivery of the Captain Hook soliloquy from the aforementioned Peter Pan musical. Not only are they each excellent singers, they bring a unique and compelling characterization to the numbers, which elevates the entire evening from standard cabaret fare.
"One Hand, One Heart: The Musicals of Leonard Bernstein" runs November 14, 15, 28 and 29, 2012 at Davenport's Piano Bar & Cabaret, 1383 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago. Showtimes are at 8 p.m. Tickets are available by calling 773-278-1830 or by visiting www.davenportspianobar.com. Tickets are $13 plus a two drink minimum.