Thursday, February 15, 2007

Let Me Be The Music

Show Business Weekly - Review by David Hurst

Following the wonderful cast recording of Listen to My Heart?The Songs of David Friedman, which ran off-Broadway last fall above Studio 54, a new addition to the Friedman cannon of recordings comes to us from a most unexpected source, the Gay Men?s Chorus of Washington, D.C. GMCW has just released a CD of one of their 'cabaret shows,' the self-produced Let Me Be The Music' The Songs of David Friedman and, with the exception of a few sound issues, it's quite wonderful. The singing, especially Jeff Mace?s "Trust the Wind," Jeff Hamlin's "Catch Me" and Chris Cochran?s "If I Were Pretty," is exceptionally strong and the blend of the eight-man ensemble is crisp, clean and invariably in tune. As Friedman himself notes in the liner notes, many New York critics chastised the Listen to My Heart review for its lack of gay themes since Friedman himself is openly gay. And in the GMCW recording, it's revelatory to hear virile men?s voices singing such Friedman classics as "He Comes Home Tired," "Help Is On the Way" and "I'm Not My Mother." Naturally, Friedman doesn't consider himself a "gay writer" nor should he. However, the sensitivity, passion and longing that the GMCW singers bring to his work is a eye-opening lesson in shattering stereotypes, rethinking what is or isn't gender-specific repertoire and learning to hear cabaret standards in a fresh, new way. Let Me Be The Music is terrific and anyone contemplating a Friedman revue won't want to be without it.

From David Friedman, A Song for Everyone
By Nelson Pressley
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, February 4, 2004; Page C10

Composer David Friedman has a gift for uplifting melodies. His songs are comfort food, and they were soothingly sung at Mimi's American Bistro Monday night by an eight-man cabaret from the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington in a show that will be repeated over the next two weekends at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

If you're lonely, confused or worried that you're turning into your mother, Friedman has a song for you. His titles generally threaten heavy-duty sentiment: "Let Me Be the Music" is the name of this piece, which is closely patterned after "Listen to My Heart," the Friedman cabaret that recently played Studio 54 in New York. (A cast recording is available.) "Trust the wind," the ensemble sings in the opening number, "Breathe the air, and know that there are helping hands around you everywhere." With its bright progressions and empowering lyrics, it sounds like Disney, which apparently has already snatched Friedman up.

Pungent he's not, yet Friedman's earnestness typically stops short of bathos. His melodies, rendered with supple energy by pianist Paul Leavitt, continually press forward. Friedman doesn't wallow in emotion or milk an idea, and stage director Judy Simmons smartly guides the performers toward restrained renditions of the numbers. No one sails over the top.

Except, of course, when they're supposed to. Owen Taggart gets laughs singing "If You Love Me, Please Don't Feed Me," and Simmons has the cast camp it up during the sober "Two Different Worlds," pairing (for instance) a Christopher Street swinger with a Wall Street banker to lyrics like, "People said it couldn't happen / People thought that we were wrong." Comic honors of the night go to Chris Cochran: He nails the neuroses in "I'm Not My Mother," turns delightfully bitchy in "My Simple Wish," and delivers "If I Were Pretty" with understated poise.

By and large, the soloists are able, if not quite stellar; high notes are more often finessed than belted, and if it lets you know the singers' limits, it also suits the prosaic yearning of the songs. Jeff Mace makes a particularly good impression, singing "Only My Pillow Knows" (weathering maudlin lyrics by Kathie Lee Gifford, no less) and "I Finally Let Go" with a mellow tone and fine control. The most rewarding moments come via the warm, well-blended sounds when the men sing together in the full-cast numbers that bracket each act -- luscious interludes that make you wish more opportunities had been found for harmonizing, or for adding background vocals. But Friedman's hopeful ballads are mainly built to be sung alone.

Metro Weekly - Arts - Stage
by David Greer

When composer and lyricist David Friedman?s revue, Listen to My Heart, premiered in New York, it was originally intended to be performed by members of both sexes. But the Gay Men?s Chorus has reshaped the evening into Let Me Be the Music: The Songs of David Friedman, and has offered up eight of their finest to bring to life the composer?s lovely, heartfelt works.
Peter Fox?s rendition of "I Can Hold You " is mesmerizing, and leaves you desiring more. Songs written during the dark days of AIDS, such as "Help is on the Way " and "We Live on Borrowed Time, " performed with compelling grace by Jeff Hamlin and Joel Furtick, encapsulate the hope and longing that many of us faced. And "I?m Not My Mother " and "If I Were Pretty, " both performed by Chris Cochran, carry a comedic intimacy that is just plain infectious.

Friedman?s songs are so exquisite a revue doesn?t do them justice -- the evening is begging for a book, and a full production. In the meantime, this rendering from the chorus will do nicely.

Dear Jeff,

Got the CD today and played it in the car. What absolutely gorgeous, heartfelt singing. The voices are just totally beautiful, every one of them, and the songs are sung with such love and feeling. It's a wonderful memento of the show and once again really speaks volumes about the viability of doing my music with a cast of all men. But most of all, to reiterate, I was just blown away by the great singing - please pass my congratulations and gratitude on to all the guys.


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