Genesis to Broadway

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 July, 2009, 12:00am

Genesis to Broadway

Fringe Theatre

Reviewed: Jul 18

Australian pianist/composer Warren Wills' Genesis to Broadway presents an intriguing concept - tracing the history of Jewish music from ancient Hebrew songs to Broadway composers such as Gershwin and Bernstein.

The programme started well with interesting treatments of traditional material but the jump to Broadway was too abrupt and failed to establish a connection between the Jewish roots of the composers and the work they produced.

Wills' mention of Lionel Bart's use of Jewish themes and inclusion of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah in the final medley suggested avenues that might have been interesting to pursue. But Wills is a genial host and a fine pianist, and this was an agreeable evening's entertainment with a relaxed, intimate atmosphere and some good performances.

The show opened with two traditional prayers, one performed by Wills as a piano solo and the other sung strongly by Heidi Mak. This was followed by Wills' striking setting of the 23rd Psalm, beautifully sung by Mak and Joyce Wong. The highlight was an arrangement of Eli, Eli for piano and violin, featuring 16-year-old violinist Jason Kwok who combined technical virtuosity with a surprising degree of feeling for such a young musician.

The Broadway songs fared less well. Gershwin's Summertime suffered from a clash of styles between Wong's operatic singing and Wills' insistently jazzy piano. Such a blues-influenced song also seemed an odd choice to trace a Jewish musical lineage - this was suggested more effectively in Wills' treatment of another Porgy and Bess song, It Ain't Necessarily So. Wong's high notes were thin in Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

Wills' playing showed his versatility and technical strength: the theme from Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence by Ryuichi Sakamoto was particularly impressive.