It’s funny how something new can feel old, and something old can feel new.
Let’s start with the former.
You no doubt have heard of "Stomp," the bang-on-just-about-anything show that returned to town for a Clowes Hall
March 3-8. Your first exposure may have happened on Sesame Street, on Coke or Target commercials, on an IMAX screen, or at
one of its more than 5,000 New York performances. Whatever the case, the desire to see it tends to be very high.
Which, when you think about it, is pretty remarkable considering the show has no narrative and no memorable music. Its performers
remain fairly anonymous (I’d guess most in the audience didn’t glance at the bio section of their Playbill). And, while the
latest incarnation had some fun moments, the over-90-minute, intermissionless show got tedious very quickly.
I admired the talents of the performers, but the show itself felt fossilized — like rereading a book you liked in college
didn’t quite grow along with you. And adding a few new segments wasn’t enough to jumpstart it. While much of the audience
seemed to have a good time, I felt an overwhelming wish that I had seen the show back in 1991 when it was fresh and we hadn’t
already been hit with Tap Dogs, Blast, and others of their non-narrative, loud musical ilk.
How can a show with so much movement seem so dusty?
On the other hand, Meridian Song Project’s "All About the Bs" program on March 1 succeeded in finding something
new in the
Tenor Steven Stolen, managing director of the Indiana Repertory Theatre, has performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the
St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and with the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center. A few notes into the recital and you clearly
understood why. With a clear, passionate high tenor, he never let musical ego get in the way of delivering the song. And he
always seemed in close partnership with his alternating pianists, focusing not just on the sound, but on the heart as well.
Don’t get me wrong. He’s using material — including a Beethoven song cycle and a group of Benjamin Britten lieder songs
proved challenging for both himself and for the audience. Most of us just don’t hear lieder music these days. With its literate
lyrics and abrupt climaxes, it’s easy for an uninitiated ear to resist. But Meridian Song Project’s format allows Stolen to
educate, elucidate, and even joke about the work, which helped considerably.
Under the B-music banner, the evening also included tunes from Irving Berlin and pop hits from Burt Bacharach and the Beatles.
These posed a different set of challenges since their vocals are so associated with a particular sound or singer. Operatic
treatment can seem like gilding the lily.
But it was worth ditching assumptions and putting in the effort. Stolen’s take on Bacharach’s "Alfie" was particularly
(credit, too, should go to pianist Gary Walters’ arrangement). And his hymn-like "Let It Be" proved even more resonant
the humbling Trinity Episcopal Church environment.
Stolen is clearly gifted, but the concert series itself is a gift to the community. Meridian Song Project concerts at Trinity
are free. And there’s even child care available.
The next concert in the series features the Meridian Vocal Consort and the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra, along with Stolen
and fellow vocalist Kyle Ferrill, performing Bach’s "St. John Passion" March 27 at Trinity and March 29 at St. Elizabeth
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