Saturday, July 30, 2016

Musical theatre in Jerusalem - Maya Pennington and Guy Frati perform together in "Guy & Doll"

Maya Pennington,Guy Frati (photo:Elle Jones)

“An evening of tongue-in-cheek, double-entendre and just a touch of neurosis for good measure” is how Maya Pennington and Guy Frati describe “Guy & Doll”, their lively presentation of songs of Tom Lehrer through Sondheim and all the way to contemporary song numbers. This writer attended the event at the Harmony Centre for Cultures, Jerusalem, on July 11th 2016.

The artists took the audience back to the vivid and diverse world of show tunes of the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st century. Opening with three “laments”, the bittersweet “Diva’s Lament” (Du Prez, Idle, Innes) and “Alto’s Lament” (Heisler, Goldrich) conveyed the hardships of survival in show biz. There were numbers from the Broadway show “Guys and Dolls” (Frank Loesser, 1950) and several Tom Lehrer songs, the latter’s political- and social satire expressed in quick-witted texts of much hilarity. Of course, there were songs about love and its complications; take, for example, Stephen Sondheim’s despondent, psychotic patter song “Not Getting Married Today” (from the musical “Company”, 1970) and “The Boy from…”. Here the young lady is unaware of her crush’s homosexuality. On the song’s humorous side, there is the very lengthy fictional name of the boy’s Spanish hometown ending each verse. Pennington unhesitatingly tops it off with informing the audience he is moving to Wales, to a town called Llanfairwllgwyngyllgogerychwrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. And then there is Kristin Chenoweth’s autobiographic episode in “The Girl in 14G” (Tesori, Scanlan, 2001), telling of the non-stop music practice emanating from her neighbours’ apartments when she first moved to New York. In her animated presentation of the song, Pennington skilfully changed from imitating the ‘cellist, an opera singer and a jazz singer as she sang fragments of “Tristan und Isolde”, Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” aria and “Swan Lake”.

A “natural” on stage, her clean, flexible voice, polished performance and marvellous wit make Jerusalem-born singer/actress and composer Maya Pennington (a native English speaker) a first-class show-woman.  A graduate of Composition and Jazz Singing from the Inter-Disciplinary Faculty of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, she spent four years touring the world with the “Voca People” a-cappella ensemble. Her solo appearances include those with the Beer Sheva Sinfonietta, the 2006 Jerusalem Jazz Festival and the 2008 Red Sea Jazz Festival. She currently lives in Tel Aviv, where she sings, writes and teaches singing.

Early in 2014, Pennington approached Guy Frati with the suggestion that they create a show built on comical performance, with an emphasis on complexity and sophistication – lyrical, melodic and subject-wise. That was the genesis of “Guy & Doll”, which has to date had over 20 performances. One of the most memorable was one in the middle of Operation Protective Edge (2014), referred to by Pennington as a “very powerful experience”. With both artists being avid teachers, Pennington and Frati recently held a second intensive two-day summer program consisting of master classes and ensemble work for singers. The two have collaborated with other musician friends – Nir Cohen, Ziv Shalit and Anna Spitz – in a “sister show” on the subject of Jewish artists on Broadway.

A number in which Frati sang and accompanied himself was “Something’s Coming” (Bernstein, Sondheim) from Act 1 of “West Side Story”. In this song, Tony expresses his disillusionment in gang warfare and looks forward to a better future. Frati gives a fine interpretation of the piece - its excitement and anticipation, its different moods, personal expression and its word-painting as he appropriates the accompaniment into energizing the number with jazzy, offbeat rhythms. Pianist, arranger, composer, accompanist and vocal coach working in the forefront of Israeli performance schools, Guy Frati is vastly experienced in ensemble work, vocal instruction and music theory and has acted as arranger and pianist for several leading Israeli orchestras, also producing events at the President’s residence, the Prime Minister’s office and the Jerusalem Cinematheque. He is a conductor of the Ashkelon branch of the international “Hazamir” Choir and has served as director of the Ashkelon Conservatory.  “Guy & Doll” brings together two outstanding artists in high quality musical theatre performance that is stylistically accurate, dedicated, finely detailed and splendidly entertaining.     



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