Spent a few days in the Cultural District last week, seeing what are essentially two very different revues and two very different venues: "My Way: The Music of Frank Sinatra" at the Cabaret at Theater Square and "Movin' Out," Billy Joel's music set to dance by choreographer Twyla Tharp, a quick weekend touring stop presented by PNC Broadway Across America -- Pittsburght at the Benedum Center.
Both were very well attended, which was nice. I think the intimacy of the cabaret space intimidated the audience I saw "My Way" with and they weren't as appreciative as the cast and musicians deserved. But whenever I'm there, I'm always struck by what a great space it is, with wonderful acoustics and options of table sitting or rows in the back, and what a nice spot the Backstage Bar is to have a drink with friends and listen to great, local, live music. Pittsburgh is lucky to have such a spot right in the middle of its theater district.
The big ol' Benedum Center has the occasional sound problems of a big place, but it feels like you're in for something special just walking in to the grand lobby. Audience members come in everything from jeans to fur coats, limos pull up at the door no matter what's showing there, it seems, and on a night like Friday, when it's cold outside and packed inside, the shared experience can be intimate in a way that only a Broadway musical can inspire.
After I wrote a quick online review Friday night, I looked up what Ben Brantley of The New York Times had to say about "Movin' Out" in 2002, and he wrote that "There's a self-contained polish about his singing that does not encourage theatergoers to join in." He didn't see the woman in around the fifth row, right center, who was standing and clapping well before the encore on Friday.
"Movin' Out" is a great touring vehicle because there's not much staging to be done -- the better to let the dancers leap and slide and glide along the stage -- and the music is so familiar to baby boomers, they know what's coming from the first notes of each song.
Over on stage at the cabaret, there's an onstage bar, a table, a trio of musicians and four vocalists, breaking into dance but singing songs of the post-World War II era that led up to Billy Joel's music.
There's another revue coming to the Cultural District, Pittsburgh Public Theater's salute to Kander & Ebb, "The World Goes 'Round," starting March 5, following on the heels of Marvin Hamlish and the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops concerts of Jerome Kern music.
Put it all together and 2009 is shaping up as a journey through popular 20th-century music, right here in river city.