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Stardust (02/19/1987 - 05/17/1987)


New York Daily News: "It Don't Mean a Sing"

From its opening moment, in which one of the actors explains who Mitchell Parish is, "Stardust" is like a TV special - bright, engaging, informative, but basically two-dimensional.

The reason is simple. Parish is an extremely able lyricist. At his best he can paint a mood with elegance and delicacy. Even at his least he is clever and polished. The trouble is these are not really theater songs.

The songs Parish wrote with such collaborators as Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael or Leroy Anderson are meant to be danced to, hummed or crooned. They're melodic, appealing, but, more often than not, undramatic. They don't develop. They just repeat.

As a result, they don't really need to be staged. There's not much you can do to them. All too often, the cast of six has only been given rigid grins and cliched choreography.

The exception is Michele Bautier, who sings "Sophisticated Lady," "Hands Across the Table," "Evenin'" and the title song hauntingly, in a voice that suggests torch singers of another era but without any attempt at mere imitation. Bautier's singing is human; most of the rest is just showbiz.

There are admittedly some wonderful moments: the close harmonies of "Moonlight Serenade," the charm of "Stars Fell on Alabama." James Raitt's arrangements and conducting are suave and sparkling. But these pleasures are not deeper than the ones you could get listening to old records.

In the case of Andre De Shields, they are less deep. He has become extremely mannered, his voice hard and nasal.

In a nightclub, "Stardust" would be satisfying. In the theater, it's just not enough.

New York Daily News

New York Post: "'Stardust' revue twinkles and shines"

"Stardust" transferred from off-Broadway to the Biltmore Theater and opened February 19, 1987.

Do you remember when you first heard "Stardust?" For me, it was when the song was 15 years old. I was 17. The singer was Crosby. The girl, oddly enough, doesn't matter.

The experience floods back back in hazy waves - as pungent as Proust reliving the taste of madeleines. The song - the melody, of course, but also those silly, syrupy yet unforgettable words - is seared on some inner skin of my being. "Stardust."

The music is by Hoagy Carmichael. You probably knew that. I did. The words are by Mitchell Parish. You probably didn't know that. I didn't.

But now there is no further excuse. The words, the lyrics, the spirit of Mitchell Parish have found a champion in the Theater Off Park (224 Waverly Place), which last night opened a show devoted to his words and the terrific music by all and sundry that sailed with them.

It is called - what else? - "Stardust" and it is 578 percent wonderful, but I already underestimate it.

Six singers - correction, six great singers - in front of seven superbly driving musicians, with a fancy proscenium arch, a cute collection of costumes, and the slenderest of thematic threads: now does that constitute true theater?

To be honest I feel guilty about enjoying this entire genre of the revue-anthology, which, I suppose, really started with the "Jacques Brel" show and has been with us ever since, sometimes behaving, sometimes just "Ain't Misbehavin'."

There have been other songfest revues strung on composers - singing birds such as Duke Ellington, Noel Coward, Jerome Kern, Eubie Blake, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman to name but a cageful - but apart from a few irrepressible lyricists like Sammy Cahn, or Betty Comden and Adolph Green giving us their own theater evenings at the piano, the lyricists have been more heard than seen.

But now here comes Parish, who has written a quiverful of songs, from "Stardust" to "Deep Purple," from "Sweet Lorraine" to "Volare."

The man has collaborated with the best, and his list of credits reads like an all-time hit parade.

As a lyricist, Parish was born with a Romantic lump in his throat. He is a nocturnal creature - his songs are full of stars, moonlight, twilight and the deep purple. And he lights up his nights with torch-songs.

He is not witty or clever, like Porter or Sondheim, nor is he universally deft like Cahn. He strikes a common chord of sentiment, he bangs a drum of feeling, and bangs it loudly. 

Lost love is his central theme, but he makes lost love seem very attractive, as though it is better to have loved and lost than ever to have won at all.

The idea of the show came to Albert Harris and Burton L. Litwin. Harris is director of Theater Off Park, an organization that having recently lost its East Side lease, found itself having to create a whole new theater.

Harris has directed himself with ingenuity and aplomb, the musical direction has been beautifully handled by Raitt, and the casting has been inspired. The six people giving this revue make perfect company for the evening.

Their talents are varied but remarkably matched. In alphabetical order, Michele Bautier proves a torch-singer par excellence, and Maureen Brennan a refreshingly uncute ingenue with a talent for coloratura scat.

Then there is Kim Criswell, an expansive personality with a voice to match, the ever-svelte and nonchalant Andre de Shields, a perkily bouyant and very funny Jason Graae, and finally the nimbly gawky Jim Walton.

A gleaming half-dozen in a stardusted show. And now you need never say that you have never heard of Mitchell Parish. So, go and enjoy - it is the best revue of its stand-up-and-dance-and-sing type in years.

New York Post

New York Times: "'Stardust,' a Pop Song Revue"

"Stardust" transferred from off-Broadway to the Biltmore Theater and opened February 19, 1987.

It's not unusual for pop songs to embrace the moon and stars as all-purpose romantic symbols, but the lyrics of 87-year-old Mitchell Parish have always shown a special attachment to glinting heavenly orbs. "Star Dust" (1929), Mr. Parish's most famous lyric, may be the definitive pop expression of this kind of skyward-looking romanticism. Fittingly, the song is both the title and a recurrent refrain of an amiable new revue celebrating Mr. Parish's work, presented by Theater Off Park, at St. John's Episcopal Church in the Village.

Comprising more than three dozen songs written over four decades, the show features such celestially minded standards as "Stairway to the Stars," "Deep Purple," "Moonlight Serenade" and "Stars Fell on Alabama," performed by a rotating cast of six. The music is expertly arranged for voices  and pop-jazz sextet by James Raitt.

The revue, which begins with the 1921 Tin Pan Alley tune "Carolina Rolling Stone," presents a rough chronology of a catalogue that embraces an exceptionally diverse range of musical styles. Working with composers as dissimilar as Cab Calloway, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington and Leroy Anderson, Mr. Parish collaborated on snappy vaudeville numbers, full-blooded swing songs, genteel "light classical" songs and sentimental children's ditties. Two of his biggest commercial successes late in his career were the English lyrics for Domenico Modugno's glitzy international hits "Volare" and "Ciao, Ciao, Bambino."

After "Star Dust," which he wrote with Hoagy Carmichael, Mr. Parish's most refined lyric was for the Duke Ellington standard "Sophisticated Lady." Both songs are given rivetingly intense performances by the cabaret singer Michele Bautier, whose darkly shaded alto and clear, steady delivery strip their emotions bare. Ms. Bautier nearly stops the show with "Evenin'," a little-known 1934 torch song whose melody, composed by Harry White, bears a marked resemblance to "My Man's Gone Now" from "Porgy and Bess." Ms. Bautier is the most distinguished singer in a cast of six that also includes Maureen Brennan, Kim Criswell, Andre De Shields, Jim Walton and Jim Graae. While the six voices blend comfortably in several intricately harmonized set pieces, Mr. De Shields's frayed, painfully affected renditions of "Deep Purple" and "Ruby" undermine the revue's spirit of low-keyed, innocent nostalgia.

"Stardust," conceived and directed by Albert Harris, is simply and handsomely staged, with its cast shuffled in and out of assorted informal tableaux. The last third of the revue weaves together several of Mr. Parish's later songs as part of an imaginary 1950's television variety show, "Your Cavalcade of Hits." Patrice Soriero's amusing choreography expertly parodies all those whipped-up song-and-dance numbers in which the key images of songs were literally illustrated with gestures. The show even has a fictional sponsor, Happy Cigarettes, which the grimacing singers are required to demonstrate in a "live" television commercial.

Careful not to make extravagant claims for the gifted craftsman it celebrates, "Stardust" is a gentle, easy-to-like, nostalgic tonic.

New York Times

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