Susan, Richard and I saw this musical at Encores! at City Center on 2/10. This is the group that does modestly staged productions of semi-forgotten Broadway musicals from yesteryear. The three of us have seen most of their shows over the last five or six years, and *Cabin in the Sky* was one of the very best.
It's a show from 1940 with music by Vernon Duke, lyrics by John Latouche, and a book by Lynn Root. It opens with the death of Little Joe Jackson, a gambler and a gadabout. A devil has his eye on him, but his wife Petunia prays fervently for his soul, and her prayer is answered. The devil and the angel argue over who should get him, and they decide to send him back to earth, let him live another six months, and see how he does.
The music was stunningly beautiful. I know many Duke songs ("April in Paris", "Autumn in New York", "I can't get started") but but wasn't prepared for the sheer gloriousness of his music. I was blown away. The most famous songs in the show are two songs for Petunia, "Taking a chance on love" and "Happiness is just a thing called Joe", but the highlight of the score is the title song, here sung by Ella Fitzgerald.
The role of Petunia was written for Ethel Waters, and was played by LaChanze in the Encores! production. She gave the best performance in the show, full of heart, and some lovely singing. Michael Potts was charming as Little Joe (a role that was created by Dooley Wilson, best known for playing Sam in *Casablanca*), and Norm Lewis was marvelous as the angel (a role created by Todd Duncan, who also created the role of Porgy in *Porgy and Bess*). Chuck Cooper sang with a booming voice and was suitably oily as the devil (played by Rex Ingram in the original).
Back to the music: the songs and dances were greatly aided by their arrangments: Sondheim orchestrator and EGOT winner Jonathan Tunick did the masterful orchestrations, and Linda Twine and Rob Berman did the vocal arrangements. Berman was the music director of the show, which makes me wonder how much he actually in the vocal arrangements - - Linda Twine is another story.
I know her from conducting *Lena Horne: the Lady and Her Music*, which I saw on PBS in 1984. I videotaped it and watched it over and over and over. I will never forget Twine playing the opulent piano intro to "Stormy Weather" at the end of the show. Her work on the vocal arrangements for *Cabin in the Sky* was first class. She has a sure grasp of harmony, counterpoint, voicing, and writes for the voice in an idiomatic way. There were two long a cappella numbers in the show, and the chorus was brilliant. Of course Duke and Twine gave them something brilliant to sing. Hm, I'm thinking of writing a fan letter to Linda Twine...