I saw the Third Annual Harvard Yale Cantata at 54 Below on 9/7/17. I've been to all three years, and it's always a blast. My friend Tom Toce created it, it's a tribute to the Harvard Yale Regatta, only instead of seven heats of rowing, you have seven heats of songs, with songs written by Harvard grads squaring off against songs written by Yale grads, sung by grads of those schools. Tom flung his net a little wider this year, he paired Columbia with Harvard and Princteon with Yale.
After the amusing opening number (written by Tom and Dylan MarcAurele) we got down and dirty with a song about intercourse! I couldn't quite figure out whether the song was sung by the penis or by the condom sheathing the penis. The next song, "Everybody Wants To Be Sondheim," was one of the high points of the show, a clever song by Alan Chapman sung by Sam Gravitte with charm and grace.
The next guy came out with a music stand, a glass of water, and a stool. That's a lot of accessorizing for one little song. Then we heard "Nothing But the Love," sung by the songwriter, Tina deVaron (who also accompanied herself on the piano). A sweet song, sung in a lovely, sincere way, genuinely touching.
"Show Interest iIn Me" sounded like a song that was cut from *The Little Mermaid.* Not in a bad way! "Brooklyn, Goodnight" was another singer/songwriter special, and probably the best song and performance of the show. Julian Fleisher sang and played the guitar - - the song was full of hilarious local references, and he sang it with savvy and verve. He had the audience in the palm of his hand, it was thrilling.
The two singers of "Erica, Save Me" explained the context of the song, something about how the people work at the concession stand in an amusement park, and one of them has a crush on this girl Erica, who also works at the park and is currently saving people from being abducted by aliens. I'm not making this up. The next song, "All Of My Friends," was my favorite of the night, sung by Kelechi Ezie. It's a song by Drew Fornarola about a girl in college who's getting tired of her friends confiding in her about their relationship problems. The refrain was "Everyone cheats on everyone / All of my friends are whores." A scream! Ezie has what I would call "a legitimate voice" - - she'd do a gorgeous job with a Mozart aria or a Schubert song. She has a sunny, warm tone delicious clear diction, she could be the new Barbara Cook!
There was one clunker, and it reminded me of a review I wrote a couple of years ago - - my mom and I took a Viking River Cruise in the fall of 2015, from Budapest to Nuremberg and we went to the State Opera on our free night in Vienna to see *The Tempest.* I'll quote from my review:
"There's a trio halfway through the first act, for Prospero, his daughter, and the young man she ends up with. It was written in an overly complicated way, it didn't work for the dramatic situation and didn't work from a purely musical standpoint. It just sounded messy. I listened to it with my brow knit, and tried to think of how I would describe it in my review. I'm sure at some point in your life you've watched the laundry go around in a front-loaded washer. Prospero was a blue sweater, Miranda was a light blue washable silk blouse, and Ferdinand was a medium brown linen shirt. The orchestra was everything else in the laundry, the towels, handkerchiefs, underwear, etc. This is not an image I hope will come to mind in future trips to the opera."
The song in the Harvard/Yale Cantata brought to mind a less pleasing image. The song went around and around and never really went anywhere. It made me think of when you take a dump and flush the toilet, but the toilet doesn't actually flush, you just stand there watching the turd swirl around and around and around. Again, not an image I hope comes to mind in future performances.
The sweetest song of the show, "It's All For the Best," was sung by Peter Lerangis. Jack Lemmon was President of the Pudding, in charge of Harvard's Hasty Pudding show in 1947 - - he wrote this song for the show, and it was rejected! He always felt disgruntled about that, but explained it by saying that the lyrics weren't very good. Well, in 1985 Harvard had some kind of Hasty Pudding gala and got Harvard alum Alan Jay Lerner to write new lyrics for the song. He was supposed to sing it at the gala but had to cancel due to illness, so they enlisted a dewy young undergrad, our own Peter Lerangis, who sang it at 54 Below. This was only the second time the song had ever been performed in public. It was lovely, it should be heard MUCH more often.
The final score was 32 Yale/Princeton, 31 Harvard/Columbia. Let's review the score for all three years, shall we?
2015: Yale 37, Harvard 25
2016: Yale 32, Harvard 31
2017: Yale/Princeton 32, Harvard/Columbia 31
Clearly Harvard has some catching up to do.
The biggest tribute I can give to Tom and this show is that it's the only show on earth that I would attend with a 9:30 PM curtain time. Most nights, at 9:30 PM, I've got my nightie on.