REVIEW: Broadway & Beyond – Marin Mazzie & Jason Daniely Live at Feinstein\'s/54 Below
Let's start with the obvious: the quality of Broadway & Beyond – Marin Mazzie & Jason Danieley Live at Feinstein's/54 Below is likely irrelevant to most of the people who will buy a copy, at least on its initial release. As a recording of the last concert these married Broadway stars gave before Marin died from ovarian cancer at age 57, the album (which, thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign, will also be released as a video) makes a meaningful keepsake for fans.
That it just so happens to capture an absolutely gorgeous performance is gravy. The album was recorded June 1, 2017, slightly more than two years after Marin's diagnosis, but there's absolutely no sign of illness or weakness in her singing. (Jason sounds great too.) Backed by a three-piece band (musical director Joseph Thalken on piano, Pete Donovan on bass, and Rich Rosensweig on drums), the couple present highlights from their careers, starting with a medley of standards that had been incorporated into the avant garde production of The Trojan Women on which they met and including songs from The King and I, South Pacific, Kiss Me, Kate, The Full Monty, Curtains, The Visit, Ragtime, and even My Favorite Broadway: The Love Songs. You'll also hear a couple of familiar cuts from the first album they cut together, Opposite You, and for an encore, the song they danced to at their wedding, "Our Love Is Here To Stay."
The arrangements run the gamut from cabaret-jazzy to straightforward. Ted Firth's bouncy setting of the opening medley enables Marin and Jason to assure us that this will not be a weepy evening, even as Jason reminds us that "you've got to laugh a little, cry a little" in "The Glory of Love." Marin's tender rendition of "Hello Young Lovers" demonstrates why many fans insisted on multiple return trips to Lincoln Center once she took over the role of Anna in the recent King and I revival. As the song nears its climax, and Marin reminds us not to cry because she had a love of her own, you might start to wonder if the entire evening of love songs is going to be tinged with sadness or foreboding. It may be impossible for some listeners not to catch on those moments, but the singers do not lean into any potential subtext, and their performances are stronger for it.
Instead, we get the purity of voice and interpretation that made each of them sought-after leading players. When Jason reprises Lt. Cable's songs from South Pacific, which he first sang in a 2005 Carnegie Hall production, it's hard to believe he's aged a day. You'll feel the same when Marin reprises "Happiness," the opening number from Passion that introduced her to many of her fans.
This song introduces the "Sondheim Suite," a medley from their previous album which serves as an emotional turning point in the album. Using five Sondheim songs to trace the vagaries of romance, tracing a couple's evolution from new love to broken-hearted yearning to the acceptance of their relationship's ending, the suite transitions the evening to a sober place where the couple can begin to address the realities of their life at that moment, and Marin's illness.
What follows are still love songs, but the melancholy is slightly closer to the surface. When Jason sings "You, You, You" (from The Visit, here given a jazzy setting by arranger Charlie Rosen), there's an anticipatory wistfulness in his voice that turns a song about the reunion of long-separated loves into a prefiguring of a dreaded, unacknowledged separation to come. This is immediately followed by Marin's exceptional "When Did I Fall In Love?" – a song about looking back that nonetheless climaxes with the lyrics "until the end of my life," and you can feel the room collectively hold its breath when she sings them.
But the album never gets maudlin! (Marin immediately diffuses any tension by charmingly forgetting the name of the television special on which she first sang the song.) That it avoids cheap sentimentality even as Jason sings "I Miss The Music" – his song from Curtains that is literally about having lost a partner – is an achievement. That any of us can hear Marin talk about her battle with cancer before the one-two punch of "And The World Goes Round" and "Back To Before" and feel stirred rather than abjectly sad is a tribute to both her artistry and the depths of her strength that came through whenever she opened her mouth.
There are a few moments when the sheer power of the music overwhelms the audio capabilities of the recording, but a little distortion on the big, belty notes is a small price to pay for this gem of an album. I feel greedy for wishing a few other songs had made the cut (such as Zorba's "Life Is," which Marin sang in the Encores production the day she was first diagnosed, or anything from Next to Normal, which the couple appeared in together on Broadway), but it's hard not to want more when what you have is so good and when you know there's no more to come.
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Broadway & Beyond: Live at Feinstein's / 54 BELOW - 2017 Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley My Favorite Broadway: The Love Songs - 2000 Concert Cast South Pacific - 2005 Concert Cast Opposite You - 2005 Marin Mazzie & Jason Danieley The King and I The Visit Curtains Next to Normal Zorba South Pacific The Full Monty Ragtime Passion Kiss Me, Kate Pete Donovan Marin Mazzie Charlie Rosen Ted Firth Joseph Thalken Stephen Sondheim Jason Danieley The Glory of Love When Did I Fall in Love? (20) Life Is (9) You, You, You But the World Goes Round (17) Happiness (14) (Our) Love Is Here to Stay (34) Back to Before (11) I Miss the Music (2) Hello, Young Lovers (55) Toggle Additional (28)