By JENNIFER FARRAR
NEW YORK - Hang on to your martini: Some of the most famously smooth, sophisticated songs created by American musical icon Burt Bacharach have been youthfully reinterpreted into something new and tasty.
"What's It All About? Bacharach Reimagined" is like a musical love child gone wild. The dynamic show, which opened Thursday night downtown at New York Theatre Workshop, features seven talented young musicians bringing new twists to pastiches of some of Bacharach's vast body of award-winning tunes. Mashups of familiar lyrics by the late Hal David and others artfully blend in variations of Bacharach's unique melodies to provide a new perspective on old favorites.
Bacharach and David produced dozens of unforgettable songs for television, movies and hit music recordings starting in the early 1960s, including "Anyone Who Had a Heart," "This Guy's in Love With You," "I Say A Little Prayer" and "Alfie." Bacharach has numerous Grammy Awards, and several Academy Award nominations and wins for songs or soundtracks in films like "Alfie," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "What's New Pussycat."
Co-conceivers of this hip reimagining are Kyle Riabko and David Lane Seltzer, who've updated Bacharach's suave and easy style with Riabko's fresh, irresistible arrangements for 21st century sensibilities. Riabko's orchestrations were supervised by Bacharach.
In addition to performing soulfully on vocals and guitar, Riabko is the musical director and seems to be everywhere onstage. His versatile arrangements include hip-hop beats, driving rock ballads and psychedelic interludes, and repeat certain themes to connect the numbers together. One intriguing combination includes "Message to Michael," "On My Own" and "Do You Know the Way to San Jose." Riabko tenderly solos on near-acoustical versions of "Anyone Who Had a Heart" and "A House Is Not a Home," and performs a charming duet with Laura Dreyfuss in "Making Love."
Director Steven Hoggett keeps the action non-stop, incorporating expressive theatrical enactments for each number and keeping the cast in motion all around the stage and up the walls. Lively percussion by James Williams and energetic performances by Daniel Bailen, James Nathan Hopkins round out the band. Among the unexpected choices: one-time feminist manifesto "Don't Make Me Over" is powerfully performed by Nathaly Lopez as a lovelorn lament.
Staging is visually unsettling yet also cozy, with a few sofas improbably perched high up the stage walls, along with a multitude of lamps and guitars. The theater walls are completely lined with colorful carpet remnants and pieces of sound baffling. One quibble: Some annoyingly blinding lights directed at the audience could use some softening.
When it's over, you may find yourself yearning to hear some of the original interpretations of these songs by masters like the elegant Dionne Warwick. However, the fun, youthful vibe of this show brings a new flavor to Bacharach's timeless classics.
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