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Showering the Songwriter With Love and His Words

Date: 2011-03-09
source: New York Times

Rectangular is the wooden box/Where lies my love ’neath the golden phlox/They say he died of the chicken pox,” goes one of the sillier rhymes in Sheldon Harnick’s amusingly nonsensical “Ballad of the Shape of Things.” Then comes the comic kicker: “In part I must agree; one chick too many had he.”

The voice of this mock murder ballad’s haughty, homicidal narrator at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency on Tuesday belonged to Kate Baldwin in the opening night performance of her show, “She Loves Him.” Its object of adoration is Mr. Harnick, now 86, who joined her onstage and offered gentle, amusing reminiscences of his musical-theater career.

The performer and the songwriter might be described as a peppery red-headed Cinderella and her kindly sage. Ms. Baldwin, whose portrayal of Sharon in the revival of “Finian’s Rainbow,” earned her a 2010 Tony nomination for best actress in a musical, is a flaring stage presence. Bright eyed and very pregnant, she romped through 17 songs with lyrics by Mr. Harnick, singing in a clear, shiny voice infused with playful attitude. All but four of the songs had music by Jerry Bock, Mr. Harnick’s longtime musical collaborator who died last November. Especially tasty was “Gorgeous,” from the “Passionella” section of “The Apple Tree.” The trio accompanying Ms. Baldwin consisted of Scott Cady on piano, Andrew Sterman on woodwinds and John Beale on bass.

Although the show included numbers from “Fiddler on the Roof,” “She Loves Me,” and “Fiorello!” Mr. Harnick’s early songs like “The Ballad of the Shape of Things” (recorded decades ago by the Kingston Trio and Blossom Dearie) and the Cole Porter spoof, “Boston Beguine,” from the revue “New Faces of 1952,” were of special interest.

Not only because Mr. Harnick wrote the music and lyrics for those early songs, but also because they pointed in a more sophisticated direction than the one he took with Mr. Bock, you could imagine him having chosen a different road had he continued to work alone. That said, the songs from “Fiddler on the Roof,” heard outside a theatrical context and softened for cabaret, retained enough primal Eastern European pulse to stir the soul.

“She Loves Him” runs through Saturday at Feinstein’s at the Regency, ;

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