NEW YORK TIMES
NEW YORK TIMES
Finding His Inner Child, Cowboy and Housewife
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
June 30, 2011
A cowboy, a housewife, a retired widower, 1940s movie stars and kids of all ages: these are among the host of characters who people “Cast of Thousands: Gillett Sings Carnelia,” a one-man musical at the Laurie Beechman Theater. Its variety of humanity brings to mind the world of Lily Tomlin.
The verb “sings” is really inadequate to evoke the acute empathy with which Eric Michael Gillett transformed theater songs by Craig Carnelia into lived experience on Wednesday. Not only do you see the world through the characters’ eyes, but you also feel it through their nervous systems via Mr. Gillett’s theatrical shamanism. To disgorge the truth, he is not afraid to risk looking ridiculous.
This show, which originated 15 years ago at the club Eighty-Eight’s (now defunct) and has since been revised and updated, is an anthology of work by a composer whose talent, sadly, far exceeds any commercial recognition. Mr. Carnelia’s first Broadway musical, “Is There Life After High School?,” in 1982, closed after only 12 performances. He wrote lyrics for “Sweet Smell of Success” and “Imaginary Friends” and contributed four songs to “Working.”
The show’s best-known song, “The Kid Inside” (from “Is There Life After High School?”), is the thematic focus of a suite connecting three other Carnelia numbers during which Mr. Gillett, a stout middle-aged baritone, unashamedly regresses, letting his characters take over his body language.
We meet the wide-eyed elementary-school student studying exploration in “Magellan.” In “Come On Snow” another boy (or perhaps the same one) fervently cheers on a blizzard that might result in a snow day. The centerpiece, “What You’d Call a Dream,” from the 1985 Off Broadway baseball revue “Diamonds” (with songs by many different composers) is the fantasy of a shy adolescent who imagines hitting the winning home run in the final inning of baseball game. Even if it is a wishful dream, it is a moment of pure joy under “a summer sun high in the baseball sky” that “shines like diamonds.”
Not all the songs in “Cast of Thousands” are as inspired. A meticulous miniaturist with an exquisite sense for detail and emotional nuance, Mr. Carnelia can succumb to sentimentality when he generalizes in songs like “Flight” and “Life on Earth.” But Mr. Gillett, who is accompanied on piano by Jeff Cubeta, exhibits a wholehearted commitment to Mr. Carnelia’s work, good, bad or indifferent, that every songwriter hopes for.
“Cast of Thousands: Gillett Sings Carnelia” will be performed July 11 and 18 and Aug. 2 and 23 at the Laurie Beechman Theater, 407 West 42nd Street, Clinton; (212) 695-6909.