My official review of Sycamore Trees will run in the next print edition of Cabaret Scenes, but since that will come out after the show closes, I wanted to write some additional notes here:
- The show chronicles the progress of the Sylvan family in the late Twentieth Century, echoing the tumultuous social changes of the era. It’s obviously a very personal piece for songwriter/librettist Ricky Ian Gordon and co-colibrettist Nina Mankin. The show seems to trade on a lot of theatrically-familiar tropes felt like Skin Of Our Teeth and The Glass Menagerie meet Hair and Falsettos.
- I anticipate seeing a number of these songs in future cabaret presentations. And I hope to have a chance to hear this music again, because like much contemporary theatrical writing, a Jerry Herman-esque immediacy has been sacrificed for an attempt at a Stephen Sondheim-esque complexity. (Although these days, the work of writers like Gordon, Adam Guettel, and Michael John LaChiusa is making Sondheim sound as simple and straightforward as Herman.)
- The show is performed by a whiz-bang cast, including several cabaret veterans. Jessica Molasky is fabulously prickly as the oldest daughter and scores movingly in the number about addiction. Marc Kudisch brings sympathy and insight to the role of the family patriarch, and Tony Yazbeck manages the balancing act of being incredibly sweet as the son/narrator of the piece without being at all cloying. And there is the special thrill of watching Judy Kuhn rap in her featured song about self-help.
- There’s a line in the show that I really love. Describing singing Showboat to someone dying a character says, “Jerome Kern would be happy to see how necessary his songs were at that moment.”
For a mjor show at Signature, this isn’t lasting long — it only runs through June 13th, so get tickets now if you don’t want to miss it !