Isn’t it Romantic?
Written and directed by David Hunter Koch
Music Direction by William Knowles
Produced by MetroStage
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
No one this side of the Blue Note or the Algonquin Hotel delivers a silver-plated lyric like Jimi Ray Malary. Just as in prior MetroStage hits, Ellington: The Life and Music of The Duke and Nat King Cole: King of Cool, Malary mixes old school technique with a modern flair for just the right classic touch. His clear and crisp articulation and meaningful interpretations are not to be missed — packaged in an elegant and secure stage presence along with that notoriously mellow voice, he’s a class act which harkens back to an earlier era. The sleek jazz combo under the expert direction of William Knowles is also in fine form supporting the trip down memory lane. Trodding familiar ground and territory, Knowles consistently displays an inherent sensitivity to the ebb and flow of the music. Even the set design based on work by Susannah M Barnes has just the right retro minimalist style with two large cutout representational skyscrapers for Anywhere, USA framing the set. What sets the production apart is a first time duo arrangement with a fellow vocalist, the charming Lori Williams, and an attempted dramatic story line depicting the many and various stages of love, in all its splendor and heartbreak.
Not unlike love, Isn’t it Romantic hits tried, true and familiar territory. Who doesn’t know the songs from Jerome Kern, Rodgers & Hart and George & Ira Gershwin? Well worn favorites like “Our Love Is Here to Stay” are coupled with others that have become “new” favorites, such as “The Folks Who Live on the Hill.” Try to keep from getting misty-eyed when Malary croons That one. And what’s a love song without a couple? A local jazz favorite, Williams adds a playful touch to the evening — her voice has a light, sparkling tonality with a breezy upper register that belies the full bodied heft beneath it. Just listen to her sizzling rendering of some Ella Fitzgerald scatting for perfect pitch and trump solid delivery. She’s a perfect complement to Malary’s beautiful Billy Eckstein mellow pitch.
Through the songs, Malary relays the stages of romance, and Williams portrays the object of his loving affection who with each passing number becomes the foil, the spurned lover, the antagonist, and eventually the “ex” – you got to get the blues in there somehow. Even though you know what’s coming, Malary and Williams are so delightful to watch, even the well worn twists and turns are enjoyable, especially when expressed by such favorites as “My Funny Valentine” to depict love’s bitter sweet touch. The far-reaching medley even stretches to include Sportin’ Life’s “A Woman Is a Sometime Thing” from Porgy and Bess. Malary makes it work. He exudes endearing authenticity from the time he walks onstage making you believe the love renderings could be actual depictions from his own life story instead of a light-hearted creation by David Hunter Koch.
At 60 minutes and change this is not a full-scale production, the characters are broad brush sketches at best, and the emphasis is squarely on the music with the characters mainly as props to move the songs along. With this as an understanding, the production showcases classic love songs that have withstood the test of time for a reason and you can see why. In the hands of such accomplished artists as Malary, Williams, and Knowles, Romantic truly is S’Wonderful.
Running Time: Shortly over 1:00 hour, no intermission
When: Thru December 21, Thurs and Frid at 8:00pm; Sat at 5:00pm and 8:30pm; Sun at 3:00pm and 7:00pm
Tickets: $40-45 Call 703 548 9044 or consult the website