Composer-lyricist Doug Cohen not only has been honored with the 2010 Fred Ebb award, but examples of his work were spiritedly performed at the ceremony titled “An Afternoon with Doug Cohen” at the York Theatre at Saint Peter’s on Monday, April 11, 2011. What better way to show the caliber of the award-winner’s creativity than having an excellent cast do his work justice?
One of the most sophisticated numbers was “So Much in Common,” from Cohen’s “No Way to Treat a Lady,” based on the novel by William Goldman. Tovah Feldshuh, Howie Michael Smith and Lauren Kennedy teamed to sing about a young man fearfully introducing his bride-to-be to his mother. The song’s twist is that girlfriend and mom, who on the surface couldn’t be more different, get on swimmingly. The lyrics are oh-so clever and the trio performed engagingly.
Cohen, who hosted most of the program, asked what more need be said than Jackie Hoffman, whereupon Hoffman materialized to carry on with a wildly funny rendition of “The Border Song” from “The Big Time” (book by Douglas Carter Beane). As her fans know, Hoffman’s body language and facial expressions can be as hilarious as what she does with lyrics.
There was a first rate ensemble consisting of Sara Jayne Blackmore, Oakley Boycott, Emily McLoughlin, Sam Prince and Clyde Voce, with the group performing “The Most Beautiful Woman in the World” from “Helen of Troy” (book and co-lyrics by Zoe Samuel). The ensemble backed Bradley Dean for his impressive soloing in “Born to be in the Biz” from “The Big Time.” And the ensemble joined Lindsay Roberts in “Flying Free” from “Barnstormer” (book and lyrics by Cheryl L. Davis). I enjoyed Dean and Barbara Walsh sensitively singing “The Possibility of Palaces” from “Valentino’s Tango” (music by Howard Marren).
“From Noon Till Three” was the source of “So the Legend Goes,” sung by Jeff McCarthy, Lauren Kennedy and the ensemble, as was the title number from the show performed by McCarthy and Kennedy. Heidi Blickenstaff had an appealing solo, “It’s Only a First Date,” a number from “Nine Wives” (book and co-lyrics by Dan Elish) that wistfully mixes hope and caution. Also from that show, Howie Michael Smith, Lance Rubin and Heidi Blickenstaff teamed on “Pathetic” (The Year of the Weddings).
The ultra-enjoyable afternoon revealed anew the effervescence of Cohen’s talent, whether creating on his own or in collaboration. He also has a winsome personality and a good sense of humor, evidenced by his labeling the event starting at 4:30 p.m. a Florida-like early bird special. Most of all, of course, his wit is in his writing and composing.
Jonathan Smith was musical director and pianist, with Dave Phillips on bass. The program was under the direction of Richard Roland. The award is an annual honor by the Fred Ebb Foundation, which presented the showcase in association with The York Theatre Company, Saint Peter’s, 54th Street and Lexington A\venue.