Stephen Schwartz gets an energetic tribute at Davenport’s

Christopher Pazdernik clearly loves his musicals. As the mastermind behind the new revue at Davenport’s, it’s an art: the songs of Stephen Schwartz, he serves as the host for the evening, infectiously leading us through the musical theater composer’s life and work. And what work it is: Schwartz is one of the great American musical theatre composers. With such shows in his canon as Pippin, Godspell, and, yes, Wicked, his music lends nicely to a cabaret setting: it’s fun, intimate, tuneful, and, most importantly, eclectic. Listening fatigue isn’t a concern when encountering to an evening of his work. There’s also a warm, joyous core to his music that urges you to smile.

A trio of young, likeable performers represents his music proudly and with loads of confidence. Charissa Armon, Courtney Freed and Ryan Lanning each have distinctive styles that are put to good use in their song pairings. Armon is the mature chanteuse with a secret wild side, Freed is the funky, effervescent belter, and Lanning is the warm tenor with an appealing retro vibe (which plays nicely off of Schwartz’s earlier works written in the ’70s).

Pazdernik had decades of scores from which to assemble an evening honoring the man’s work, and he chose some gems. While there are a few selections we’ve all heard too often (“Meadowlark” being the main culprit — though Pazdernik won me over by performing, word-for-word, Patti LuPone’s introduction to the song from her “Patti LuPone LIVE!” album), there are many rarely-heard tunes in the mix, such as “Solid Silver Platform Shoes” from The Magic Show and “Forgiveness’ Embrace” from his 2001 album entitled “Uncharted Territory.” And, yes, there is some “Defying Gravity,” but not the version I feared we’d be subjected to (you know: a woman wailing her lungs out while standing on a chair). Rather, the Wicked showstoppper is artfully arranged as a subtle duet. Kudos to musical director Aaron Benham.

As a fun bonus, attendees to the show can enter a raffle to win Defying Gravity: the Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from ‘Godspell’ to ‘Wicked’ by Carol de Giere — a thoroughly-researched reference book on the composer.

If you’re a fan of musicals, or just good music, get your tickets to it’s an art: the songs of Stephen Schwartz. Lucky for you, two more shows have been added: June 6 and 14. More information here >

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