News Column

A New Way to Hear Bacharach's Music

December 6, 2013




New off-Broadway musical, at the New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. 4th St.

Conceived by Kyle Riabko and David Lane Seltzer. Music by Burt Bacharach; arranged by Riabko. Directed by Steven Hoggett.

With Riabko, Daniel Bailen, Laura Dreyfuss, James Nathan Hopkins, Nathaly Lopez, James Williams and Daniel Woods.

Schedule: 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $85. 212-279-4200, or

Kyle Riabko, a 26-year-old actor-singer-musician from Saskatchewan, had an idea:

What would Burt Bacharach's hit songs from the '60s and '70s sound like if Riabko lifted them out of their pop-jazz rhythms and gave them a "modern" sound?

He made a demo, received the approval of the 85-year-old composer, and the result is the rather delightful "What's It All About? Bacharach Reimagined," which opened Thursday night at the New York Theatre Workshop.

The show is a 90-minute concert -- performed by seven talented young musicians and singers, led by Riabko -- with many of Bacharach's songs rearranged as soft rock, and mashed up in unexpected patterns, such as a surprisingly harmonious blending of "This Guy's in Love with You," "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" and "Alfie."

The new sounds, both instrumental and vocal, get you to actually listen to songs -- "Close to You," "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" and dozens more -- that had become so familiar, they were musical wallpaper.

One of the show's highlights is an aching, country-soul version of "Don't Make Me Over," beautifully and simply sung by Nathaly Lopez.

The 1962 song was the first hit single that Bacharach and his lyricist-partner Hal David had with Dionne Warwick, beginning a long and incredibly fruitful association with the singer.

(Watching the different way Warwick approached the song, in a YouTube video, offered a fascinating contrast in musical eras.)

Much of the singing in the production is done by Riabko -- who also plays lead guitar -- in an appealingly sweet and intimate voice that's well-suited to his arrangements. The show is often acoustic, but Riabko and the other guitarists plug in for a hard-rock version of "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" which is more notable for the contrast it provides than as a revelation of the possibilities of Bacharach's music.

For visual variety, in a concert that has repetitions of sounds, director Steven Hoggett keeps the performers in motion: circling around, forming different groupings, even ascending to a couple of old couches perched about 15 feet above the ground.

The stage is arrayed with a collection of house lamps, oddly reprising a look already seen this year in "A Night with Janis Joplin."

The set designers, Christine Jones and Brett J. Banakis, have also hung the walls around the large stage with an eclectic mix of beat-up rugs, what appear to be sheets and tablecloths and even patches of artificial turf, creating the appearance of an abandoned junk shop.

The show's look, though, is easily trumped by its sounds, which winningly demonstrate that there's more than one way to hear a song.

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