BARBARA BLEIER AND AUSTIN PENDLETON SING OSCAR AND STEVE at Don’t Tell Mama Is Storytelling Sublime
When Barbara Bleier and Austin Pendleton began work on their new show, it was intended as a tribute to Oscar Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim, two musical theater legends who had a personal association in real life. After some high-profile delays, when the duo took their place on the Don’t Tell Mama stage, the program was also a tribute to their late friend and director Barbara Maier Gustern.
Entirely titled BARBARA BLEIER AND AUSTIN PENDLETON SING STEVE AND OSCAR, Sunday night’s performance was dedicated to Maier Gustern, whose recent death came as a shock to the entertainment community, and as such a special number was added to begin the evening. Michele Brourman, a close friend of the deceased, sent Ms Bleier a song to perform in honor of their friend, a composition by Brourman and Amanda McBroom titled “Saying Goodbye”, and although it did not match the title of the show, it certainly fit the theme: love, friendship and respect. It was a fitting way to start an evening filled with joy but laced with heartache for the friend they and the community have lost.
Once their opening number was completed and the duo entered the program which was organized and rehearsed, the STEVE AND OSCAR show provided the nearly full house with a splendid evening of musical storytelling. With Pendleton taking much of the prose for the presentation, Barbara and Austin performed five Rodgers and Hammerstein compositions and nine Sondheim songs, and if the balance seems slightly off balance, that’s forgivable because the quality of the storytelling, in each entry, is remarkable. While Barbara’s rhetorical moments lean towards her personal experiences with these words and music, Pendleton’s paragraphs detailing each composer’s story and their friendship were easily delivered with fluidity and purpose. Both performers deliver all of their dialogue with humor and admiration, not by rote or memorization, but because it’s facts these actors simply know, having been in the industry for almost the entire tenure. of Sondheim in the company. Pendleton’s stories, in particular, are the stories and tales of a legend who was a friend, so sharing them is as natural as telling your own personal stories. It is a pleasure to hear him speak on the subject.
It is also a pleasure to see and hear Barbara and Austin perform these compositions, with occasional vocal assistance from maestro Paul Greenwood. All accomplished actors, the trio not only understands the lyrics that guide the audience on the journey, but also the melodic lines and how their construction contributes to the visceral experience intended for this journey. Whether they’re working on solo numbers like Bleier’s soulful “Anyone Can Whistle” or duets like a heartbreaking “No More” from the two gentlemen, the artists deliver a complete storytelling experience to savor. Pendleton and Bleier aren’t children, they have a certain seniority in the business and in life, and their years of experience are reflected in their performances, in particular their most personal moments, “Finishing The Hat” from Austin and Barbara’s “I’m Still Here,” “both of which show the audience the clear connection the artists have to both compositions. Although Messrs. Hammerstein and Rodgers’ contributions to the evening are performed as well as the songs from Sondheim, it’s obvious how deeply Steve’s work resonates with Bleier and Pendleton.Among Rodgers and Hammerstein’s numbers, however, highlights include a rarely performed political theme song from The Sound of Music, and a ballad from The King and I which continues (with uncanny perfection) in a ballad of Dick Tracy’s Sondheim.Indeed, Greenwood’s arrangements throughout are an added bonus to the proceedings, a e procedure which was designed to include a large participation of Barbara Maier Gustern but which had to be restructured after the recent defeat of the team. The restructuring of the cabaret cannot be seen; all the audience sees during the hour-long program are two masterful actors telling musical stories that can be enjoyed by anyone interested in the art of storytelling. It’s a simple and elegant cabaret theater night, much like Barbara Meir Gustern was and always will be.
BARBARA BLEIER AND AUSTIN PENDLETON SING STEVE AND OSCAR will perform Don’t Tell Mama on April 3 at 7 p.m. For more information and tickets, visit the Don’t Tell Mama website HERE.
Barbara Bleier has a website HERE.
Photos by Stephen Mosher