All The Possibilities: Broadway Sings Wartofsky

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday January 18, 2019

All The Possibilities: Broadway Sings Wartofsky

The recently released album "All the Possibilities: Broadway Sings Wartofsky" features new recordings of songs by composer Michael Wartofsky, a professor at Berklee School of Music.

Most of the musicians on the album hail from Berklee, while the featured vocalists are Broadway performers. In pre-release materials, Wartofsky explained that he "would have become a singer if lack of talent hadn't gotten in the way." But instead, he discovered his love for writing material to be sung by others, which is evident in the stellar performances throughout this album.

While some of the songs come from shows Wartofsky was involved with, many of these tracks are not affiliated with any particular show. To be sure, this isn't a concept album, and the songs are not linked to any particular narrative. Rather, the album presents us with some of Wartofsky's best artistic moments. With his background in musical theater, each set of lyrics presents a story that Wartofsky moves forward by the song's end — and this makes for an engaging listen.

Album opener "In a Dream" contends with loss and processing grief ("the mourning dove cries, he thinks you're gone, if he closed his eyes he'd realize you live on and on") on top of a strutting mid-tempo, horn-centered arrangement and a passionate vocal performance by Alysha Umphress (from Broadway's "On the Town").

A series of relationship-oriented songs follow. Aisha Jackson's (from "Frozen") performance on the uptempo "My Kiss" captures the frustration of reinvigorating a waning sexual relationship, where one lover works during the day and the other at night. The mournful "All the Possibilities" (from a show called "The Navigator," with lyrics by Kathleen Cahill), about longing to reunite with a former lover, features Kate Baldwin on top of a piano, solo violin, and strings accompaniment. Following is "No One Quite Like You," a song Wartofsky originally wrote and sang as a surprise to his husband at their wedding. Daniel Quadrino's (from "Newsies") vocal here is energetic and youthful, mirroring both the joy in Wartofsky's lyrics and the song's uptempo setting.

"I've Got a Crush" (from a show called "Cupcake" which debuted at Boston's Club Cafť in 2012; lyrics here are provided by David Reiffel) essentially rewrites Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney's "The Girl Is Mine," but with more humor and less heteronormativity. Vocalists Allie Trimm (from "13") and Michael Roberts McKee (from "Mamma Mia") battle it out over Tom, a man whose sexual orientation — and consequently, their prospects of ending up with him — they can't seem to suss out. The mood shifts on "Without Your Love," about the all-consuming power of falling in love. Marcus Paul James (from "In the Heights") provides a strong vocal on top of a spare 1990s alt-rock ballad accompaniment of piano, guitar, bass, and drums.

A pair of tunes recalls 1970s adult contemporary pop. "Real Thing" (from the one-man musical called "The Man in My Head," book by Thomas DeFrantz) is a joyful mid-tempo strut features a strong vocal by Darius de Haas (from "Shuffle Along"). Highly romantic lyrics ("strong as a castle wall, pure as a waterfall, my love is a diamond ring") balance the practicalities of day to day life ("I take care of business but leave room for romance... sinks full of dirty dishes, days full of tender kisses"). Wartofsky's lyrics are hyperbolic and shameless, reflecting those moments so many of us feel when we're in love. "Halfway," featuring a gorgeous gospel-infused vocal by Shayna Steele (from "Hairspray"), is centered on the imperfections of love and the concessions we make in order for the relationship the succeed.

Another brazenly humorous moment, "Lament of the Real Estate Agent" (another song from the above-mentioned show "Cupcake," also with lyrics here by David Reiffel) features Farah Alvin (from "It Shoulda Been You") as a real estate agent who works in a booming summer town. Finding her work tedious and exhausting, she wonders what her own summer life might look like if she were to quit the business. The piano, bass, drums, and horns arrangement lend the tune a perfect cabaret feel.

The album concludes with the stately "Never Far From Home" (the title song of a revue by Lydia Diamond, which premiered in Cambridge, MA, in 2013). The lead vocal by Katie Thompson (from "Giant") is particularly affecting, meditating on aging and how our lives and familial bonds (or, "home") both comfort and inform our experience.

Of all the songs here, only "Just Between Us" feels somewhat out of place. Juxtaposed with cabaret-styled musical accompaniment, the lyrics are creepy and sinister. Wartofsky explores the indoctrination of young people into particular ideological beliefs from the perspective of a teacher manipulating students to "keep it just between us" in matters of "guns from Idaho, the rattlesnakes we breed, the secret short-wave radio we use to spread our creed," among other disturbing things. To be sure, Annie Golden's (from "Violet") vocal performance is solid and the music sits well amongst the other tracks, even if the topicality in the lyrics don't really fit thematically with the rest of the album.

That said, "All the Possibilities: Broadway Sings Wartofsky" is impressive all around. The liner notes designed by Reiffel are colorful, complete with lyrics and photos of most everyone involved in the production, and reflect the overall care taken in putting together this project. Musically, the album has a consistent stylistic flow — every performance is strong and the album doesn't overstay its welcome. All in all, it is a fitting introduction to the breadth of Wartofsky's work.

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.