Richard and I went to a cabaret show called *The Second Annual Harvard Yale Cantata* at 54 Below on 9/8. Karen and I went to this event last year, and it was fun and hilarious and fantastic, I was totally up for a second helping. Both shows were created by my friend Tom Toce - - they're modeled after the Harvard Yale Regatta, a boat race they do every year. The show is structured in seven heats, with each heat featuring Harvard grads singing a song written by Harvard grads, squaring off against Yale grads singing a song written by Yale grads. Tom brings in three unbiased judges (this years judges were grads of Brown, NYU, and Princeton) to score each heat, and a winner is named at the end of the night.
The show opened with a funny song that Tom (Harvard) wrote with Dylan MarcAurele (Yale), "Harvard and Yale Play Nice." It set the stage for the show, and ended with a lyric that rhymed "Princess cruise" with "somebody's gotta lose."
Sam Bolen premiered a song by Benji Goldsmith (both Yale) called "I Used To Think" - - "I used to think Republicans were sexy." Very funny song. The show stopper of the night was by Megan Loughran (Yale) singing "The Impossible Dream" by Mitch Leigh (Yale) and Joe Darion (unknown). She and pianist Alex Ratner wanted to do something different with this very well-known song. They tried different vibes, it seemed to work in every possible style, so they used them all! They went through the song in various genres, each about four measures long (or less), with the genres announced on a video screen. Bossa nova, disco, blues, doo wop, Motown, country, nanny with baby, nanny at audition, road trip, scat, karaoke, and on and on. Stopped the show!
Here's Loughran singing "The Pregnancy Song" but Yale grad (and EGOT winner) Bobby Lopez, cowritten with his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Williams College). Warning: major drops of the F bomb in this song. That word was used quite a lot at the 2nd Annual Cantata as well, might be why both shows were at 9:30 PM instead of 7:30...
Kim Oler (Yale) sang a song he wrote to sing to his wife on their wedding day, "Baby, You're Always Right." As soon as he got onstage I remembered that he had been one of the best performers the previous year. He doesn't get up there and blow you away with his razzmatazz - - he's sincere and sweet and entirely winning.
The second-to-last heat surprised me with songs that made me think of opera, though there was nothing operatic about the songs or the performances. Joshuah Campbell (Harvard) sang "Don't You Remember", which Harvard grad Dan Wilson co-wrote with the one and only Adele (BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology). I think he might have been doing it in Adele's key, and it sat in a tricky part of the voice, what we call the passaggio. This is a transitional range of three or four notes at the place where the middle-high voice shifts into the high voice, and it has to be treated delicately. I read somewhere that Wagner didn't necessarily know what he was doing early in his career, and this is apparent in the way he wrote the role of Senta in *The Flying Dutchman*. That poor girl is pounding away on the passaggio all night long, and many sopranos have crashed and burned in this role. Joshuah Campbell didn't crash and burn, he generally sounded good, but I could hear a little weariness by the end of the song. No one would mind if he took the song down a whole step, really.
Emily Jenda sang "Out Here On My Own" by Michael Gore (both Yale) and his sister Lesley Gore ("It's My Party"). Jenda has a great voice and seemed to have a few treasures in her wheelhouse: getting all intense and quiet at a certain moment, adding a bit of growl in the lower range, conveying shock and dismay with a quick intake of breath, and of course shaking the plaster from the ceiling with a powerful belt when it goes high. I got the feeling that she trots these things out whenever and whatever she sings, be it "Out Here On My Own" or "The Old Rugged Cross." This made me think of the great Italian mid-century soprano Magda Olivero, who had a similar grab bag of specialties - - in her case they were a gradual decrescendo on a high note, lying on a piece of furniture with her head hanging off the end, and a slow and devastating crumbling to the floor. She's said to have worked in these things into every role. That's what I call ingenuity!
The last heat featured a funny song by John Forster, sung by Barry Shafrin (both Harvard), "Entering Marion." It's about a guy driving to Cape Cod and seeing a sign, as he drives into a small town: Entering Marion. Another time he's Entering Beverly. You get the picture. And just as you would expect, at the end of the song, he's shocked to see how much he enjoys Entering Carlton. A laugh riot!
The final score this year was a real nail-biter - - Yale won, 32 to 31!