Russ Kaplan’s Broadway Jazz Session at The Green Room 42 (Photo: Matthew Wexler)
By Matthew Wexler
I’m quickly gaining affection for one of Midtown’s newest performances spaces, The Green Room 42. Founding artistic director and director of programming Daniel Dunlow is curating talent from the Broadway community to offer up close and personal access in a venue that’s a bit more relaxed than Feinstein’s/54 Below and considerably more affordable. With most shows costing $20-$25 and no food/drink minimum, it’s an exciting opportunity to see great talent in an intimate setting.
Since opening earlier this year, The Green Room 42 has begun cultivating regular performers, including Russ Kaplan. While his name might not be widely known outside of the theater community (yet), Kaplan is a terrifically talented musician and composer, having co-written the first a capella Broadway musical, In Transit. He’s also composed for Third Rail Projects and has been at work on a “modern jazz suite,” The Ulysses Cycle, which he’s planning on adapting into a full-length dance-theatre piece.
It is Kaplan’s affection for jazz that was recently showcased at his monthly Broadway Jazz Session, where he gathered an eight-piece band to reinterpret musical theater standards with a refreshing spin. His only caveat is to showcase songs from shows that are currently running on Broadway, and he happened to luck out this fall with Prince of Broadway, the Hal Prince retrospective that offers him access to a substantial body of work.
The evening began with a dissonant, punctuated, and occasionally assaulting rendition of “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” by Stephen Sondheim. It was an electric way to start the night and set a standard that was mostly kept throughout the 75-minute set. Other highlights included “Whatever Lola Wants” (The Pajama Game), smoothly sung by guest star Mariand Torres (Elphaba standby for Wicked on Broadway); a bossa nova-tinged rendition of the title song from Phantom of the Opera; and a dynamic, funky take on “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” from Hello, Dolly!.
Tony Award nominee Christiane Noll joined Kaplan and the band for a fairly traditional take on “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” from Showboat along with a multi-octave scat of “Waiting for Life” from Once on This Island (opening on Broadway this December).
“Friend Like Me” from Aladdin and an encore of “Pure Imagination” (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) rounded out the evening, with a second encore of “Four Days Home” from In Transit.
It’s an interesting exercise, to explore the Broadway songbook without the benefit of hearing the songs in context, and except for the evening’s guest stars, lyrics. At its best, Kaplan and his band celebrate great musical theater composers. On occasion (such as with a number from The Book of Mormon), it’s evident that those words are vital to the storytelling, regardless of interpretation. But even with a mildly underwhelming moment or two, Russ Kaplan’s Broadway Jazz Session is a creative exploration of familiar material that offers audiences a fresh perspective on the Great White Way.
Russ Kaplan’s Broadway Jazz Session
The Green Room 42
570 Tenth Avenue, 4th floor
September 10, 8 p.m.
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on Facebook at Wexler Writes.