Barbara Brussell

The New York Times CABARET REVIEW 
'Almost Like Being in Love'

Danny's Skylight Room

Life for an Overlooked Career
Friday, December 10, 2004

Hardly anyone remembers "Dance a Little Closer," the 1983 Charles Strouse-Alan J. Lerner musical, which opened and closed on Broadway in one night. But that ill-fated show produced
a brilliant nugget, "There's Always One You Can't Forget," which has gained a tentative foothold in the skimpy catalog of modern Broadway standards. This rueful ballad about pinning your lost hopes on a missed romantic opportunity distills the secret regret tucked in the back of most people's hearts. It may be the most poignant if-only ballad ever written for the stage.

That song is one of many revelatory moments in Barbara Brussell's anthology of Lerner's surprisingly overlooked career, "My Fair Lady" notwithstanding. "Almost Like Being in Love: The Lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner," which plays at Danny's Skylight Room on Wednesday evenings through Dec. 29 (it will probably be extended) is a 100-minute cabaret show seeking a larger space and a two-act format.

It ought to establish Ms. Brussell as a singer and storyteller ready to join the dozen or so performers on cabaret's top rung.

Ms. Brussell conveys a flighty off-center charm and glamour that suggest Renée Zellweger as a late-50's torch singer. At the same time, she wields an intensely dramatic voice similar to Betty Buckley's at its middle and lower end.

Ms. Brussell's concept, borne out by her program, is that Lerner (who married eight times) was a lifelong romantic whose workaholism and perfectionism attested to the same obsessive quest for the ultimate. That perfectionism is evident in the
wordplay of "Hymn to Him (Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man?"), whose complexity and wit match anything by Porter or Sondheim. Lerner drove himself half crazy trying to come up with a more accurate term than "crashing through the ceiling" (from "Thank Heaven for Little Girls"). People crash through floors, not ceilings, he worried out loud to his collaborator Frederick Loewe, who advised him to cool it.

As for his romanticism, "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" says it all.
Singing that and other famous ballads, Ms. Brussell and her pianist, Tedd Firth, strip away layers of musical formality to unearth the feelings beneath the official trappings.