Karen and I went to the fifth annual Harvard-Yale Cantata. This is a show our friend Tom produces every year at 54 Below, a take-off on the Harvard-Yale Regatta, a boat race. Tom gets Harvard and Yale grads to perform songs written by Harvard and Yale alums, one song squaring off against another song in seven "heats." A non-partisan set of three judges score each round and they choose a winner. I've been to this show every year, and while I groan about the 9:30 PM start time (I prefer to have my nightie on at 9:30 PM), I always have a great time. Next year I'm going to take off work the next day...
Tom opened the show with a song he wrote a few years ago, "Welcome to the Harvard-Yale Cantata." It's a fun song and he sang it in his winning style. But things quickly got off to a rocky start - - it's never good to start a show with a worrisome mess, but it was the only mess in the show, so maybe we could look at it as getting the crap out of the way early on? A group of five Harvard grads (who shall remain nameless) sang "Tonight (Quintet and Chorus)" from *West Side Story,* but Harvard grad Leonard Bernstein (and non H-Y Stephen Sondheim). The woman playing Anita was fine, and the woman playing Maria was very good, but the two guys playing Jets didn't quite know when to come in and when not to come in. They also had a (well-mannered) fight over the microphone. The guy playing Tony was also a problem - - he had a nice voice but his style was too poppy, and he did some rerouting of the vocal line at the end of his solo section ("For here we are/And what was just a world is a star/Tonight"). At first I thought he was being creative but when the harmonies didn't quite make sense I started to wonder if he was just plain wrong. Thankfully things got back on track when they were all singing together and the Maria nailed her high note at the end, which hides a multitude of sins.
The second heat started with an adorable song by Yale grad Chris Peters, who sang it himself while playing the guitar. It's a cute and touching song which he sang with great charm. It helps to know what you're doing, and never hurts to wear a pair of Minnie Mouse ears.
Harvard grad Matt Corriel played the piano and rapped his song "Foster Love," with four Harvard grads singing backup. I have nothing against a white guy doing rap, but it's a little too incongruous when he's wearing a sport coat, a rep tie, and deck shoes. I'm just sayin'.
Harvard grad Jennifer Lauren Brown totally nailed the song "My Party Dress," a raucous song sung by a little girl. This song had my buddy Diane Schoff written all over it, Diane, you need to add this song to your rep!
Chris Peters came back, this time minus the Minnie Mouse ears, and did a marvelous song called "Shop Vac," about a guy and his wife moving to the suburbs. The song had a strong They Might Be Giants vibe (never a bad thing).
Yale grad Megan Loughran was one of the breakout stars of the first H-Y C in 2015, singing "The Pregnancy Song." Trigger warning, this song has some seriously blue language:
She was back this year, doing "I Want To Go To Hollywood" from *Grand Hotel* by Yale grad Maury Yeston. She sang the song with verve and added an AV element on the screens beside the stage, references to or photos of Louis CK, Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, etc, ending up with a female-empowerment vibe highlighting Ellen DeGeneres, Julia Louis Dreyfus, etc. Clever and fun.
Harvard grad Matt Walker sang "A Prime Little Number" by Harvard grad Jennie Litt, a silly, brainy little song. Yale grad Julian Fleisher was a last-minute substitute for someone else, and thank God he did, because he stopped the show with his song "Then the End Begins." He had the audience screaming with laughter.
Harvard grad John Forster sang his acerbic song "Nothing Ventured, Nothing Lost." His rhymes for "lost" were a scream - - my favorite was "Cookies not baked are cookies not tossed."
The show ended with the Harvard team doing a limp group performance of Harvard grad Pete Seeger's "Turn, Turn, Turn." But the penultimate performer was the standout of the show, for me - - Yale grad Marya Grandy singing first a song called "Verdi" by Yalie Andrew Gerle, about a woman hearing the Verdi Requiem on a blind date. She thought it would be a snooze but it ended up being an transcendent experience for her. Grandy has an exceptionally beautiful voice and more than that, is a spectacular performer. Not a lot of fol-de-rol, but that perfect balance of show biz know-how and tremendous sincerity. There was a two- to four-second silence in the middle of the song, and let me tell you, you could have heard a pin drop.
Her second song was "Pink," from *War Paint* by Yalie Scott Frankel (and non H-Y Michael Korie). This song was one of the high points of a supremely disappointing musical, a show so full of talent but yet so airless and flat - - and I know of what I speak, I saw it twice! Grandy's performance had even more impact than Christine Ebersole had in the context of the show.
Drumroll please: Harvard won, for the first time! The score was 32 to 31!