Revue of Friedman tunes offers pleasant listening at Vagabond

Theater Column

January 25, 2007|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,sun theater critic

As enjoyable as an evening of music by a favorite songwriter can be, it's even more fun to discover the talents of someone new.

To be honest, David Friedman isn't a newcomer. His songs have been recorded by Barry Manilow and Diana Ross, and I am a fan of the late cabaret singer Nancy LaMott's recordings of his music. So, I had some familiarity with Friedman before the Vagabond Players' engaging, current production of his musical revue, Listen to My Heart.

Judging from the two dozen songs in this revue, certain themes recur in Friedman's work - the notion that opposites attract; the importance of getting the most out of life; and a stalwart belief that it is possible to find a soulmate.

These may not be the freshest insights, and at times the lyrics (which are credited to Friedman and 10 others, including Kathie Lee Gifford) have a Hallmark quality. But there's something to be said for the potency of simple truths and lingering melodies, and director Tom Wyatt's nine-member cast shows both off to advantage.

The most effective sections of the show are those in which one song comments on another. For instance, Holly Pasciullo sets the table for dinner in "He Comes Home Tired," a song about the everyday joys of married life. In the next song, "If You Love Me (Please Don't Feed Me)," Jeff Burch sits at the table she has overloaded with cakes, pies, biscuits, pork chops, etc., and sings, "You're killin' me by fillin' me with food."

Similarly, Shannon Wollman - a performer with an admirable ability to "act" a song - goes into humorous high dudgeon protesting "I'm Not My Mother," immediately after silver-voiced Alyson Shirk has delivered a touching maternal love song, "You'll Always Be My Baby."

Other highlights include the assured country-western flavor with which Elizabeth Ruddy infuses "My White Knight"; the hilarious, bellowed exasperation Pasciullo brings to "My Simple Wish" (a bald, selfish plea for wealth, fame and power); and the gentle grace in Chuck Graham's delivery of "You're There," a song about feeling the presence of a lost loved one.

Although Wyatt's staging is overly posed at times, he does a good job varying the tone of the show, and he gets excellent choral work out of the cast. Together with Elizabeth Fink's lovely, subtle piano accompaniment, it's a pleasure to listen to Listen to My Heart.

Listen to My Heart continues through Feb. 11 at the Vagabonds, 806 S. Broadway. Tickets are $20. Call 410-563-9135.

More readings

The staged readings of scripts under consideration for the 2007 Baltimore Playwrights Festival continues Saturday at Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St. Here's the schedule: 11 a.m., The Last Night at the Owl Bar, by Mark Scharf; 1 p.m., Patterns, by Kathleen Barber; and 3 p.m., Bulletin from Valhalla, by Chuck Spoler.

The readings are free, open to the public and followed by discussions with the playwrights. For more information visit baltimoreplaywrightsfesti

Young playwrights

Center Stage is accepting plays from Maryland students in grades one to 12 for its 21st annual Young Playwrights Festival. Scripts can be submitted by students or teachers and must be received or postmarked by Feb. 9. Entries are limited to one per student.

This year's festival, featuring staged readings of selected plays, will take place April 17. Student playwrights whose scripts are chosen will participate in day-long workshops with Center Stage actors, directors, playwrights and designers on March 31. For an entry form and more information, visit or call 410-986-4050.

Temporary quarters

Uprooted from its long-time home in the Merrick Barn, Theatre Hopkins may be out, but it's not gone.

As it did last season, the company will perform two shows in temporary quarters at the Mattin Arts Center's Swirnow Theater on the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University.

Both of this year's offerings are Pulitzer Prize winners: Lanford Wilson's Talley's Folly (Feb. 16-25) and Wendy Wasserstein's The Heidi Chronicles (June 15-July 1). For more information call 410-516-7159.

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