REVIEW: Nice Fighting You: A 30th Anniversary Celebration Live at 54 Below
Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty have the kind of versatility that makes it hard to consider their output as one body of work. Do the Caribbean rhythms of Once On This Island have anything in common with the Americana of Ragtime or the soft rock of Rocky? This new release on Broadway Records argues not only that they do, but that each of these scores and the rest of the Ahrens and Flaherty catalog bear revisiting.
Recorded live over the course of three nights at 54 Below, the New York City nightclub in the basement of Studio 54, Nice Fighting You offers 36 of the duo's songs performed by a starry cast of Broadway talent, many of whom have (or, in one case, will) played these roles in original productions and Broadway revivals. Your favorites are all here, sounding their best: Liz Callaway revisiting "Journey to the Past," which she introduced in the film Anastasia, Mary Testa proving she can belt "Rita's Confession" and "Fancy Meeting You Here" from Lucky Stiff as thrillingly as she did in 1988, and Marin Mazzie proving that "Goodbye, My Love" and "Back to Before" work as well in a tiny cabaret as they did in the gigantic original production of Ragtime. Kevin Chamberlin's gentle reading of "Solla Sollew" from Seussical may leave you wondering how that show could have possibly flopped. And Jeremy Jordan's introduction of "Dancing Still," from the upcoming Little Dancer may compel you to research tickets to Washington, DC, where the show will have its first production at the Kennedy Center this fall.
That new song isn't the only surprise on the album. "The Show Biz," a number dropped from Ragtime on its way to Broadway, is delightfully revived as a vaudevillian turn for Chamberlain and the young Lewis Grosso from the cast of Newsies, providing a charming cap to the first of the set's two discs. On disc two, audiences are treated to two songs from the team's fabled first show, an adaptation of the Dudley Moore film Bedazzled, which Ahrens and Flaherty wrote without seeking the adaptation rights, which were then denied to them. Rebecca Luker, who will star in Little Dancer this fall, introduces the touching "Something Beautiful," from a work in progress called Legacy.
With songs from every show the team wrote together, the album is a feast for the ears that will simultaneously leave you satisfied and wanting more. After hearing Bobby Steggert sing "Larger Than Life," La Chanze sing "Something Of My Own," and Brian Stokes Mitchell sing "I Was Here," how can you not dig out the original cast albums of My Favorite Year, Dessa Rose, and The Glorious Ones to see if the rest of their scores live up to these performances?
The 16-page booklet includes lots of color photographs of the concerts (including every member of the band!) as well as some vintage shots from Ahrens and Flaherty's career. As with many of the Broadway Records releases, the design is a little "DIY" for my tastes, but that's a small quibble for an otherwise flawless album.
I apologize if I'm gushing, but I'm hard pressed to name an album of recent vintage that I can recommend as whole-heartedly as this one. Congratulations to Broadway Records on the home run, and of course to Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens on a wonderful 30 years of collaboration. Here's to another 30 and beyond.
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Nice Fighting You: A 30th Anniversary Celebration Live At 54 BELOW - 2013 Concert Cast Anastasia Legacy Bedazzled Little Dancer Rocky The Glorious Ones Dessa Rose Seussical Newsies Lucky Stiff My Favorite Year Ragtime Once on This Island Lewis Grosso Jeremy Jordan Lynn Ahrens Bobby Steggert La Chanze Liz Callaway Mary Testa Kevin Chamberlin Stephen Flaherty Brian Stokes Mitchell Marin Mazzie Rebecca Luker Toggle Additional (23)