My very large collection of Dionne Warwick records and my very large crush on Burt Bacharach, composer (with lyricist Hal David) of innumerable Warwick hits, helped explain my very low social standing as an adolescent in the 70s. My peers were listening to “Let It Be.” I was listening to “Walk on By,” “Don’t Make Me Over” and “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” all the while wishin’ and hopin’ (and thinkin’ and prayin’) that by the time I grew up, Bacharach might possibly have grown weary of his then wife Angie Dickinson.
Well, the world goes ‘round. The irreproachably hip Elvis Costello did a cover of Bacharach’s “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself” in the late 70s and recorded “I’ll Never Fall in Love” for the soundtrack of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, thus making it socially safe for me to go public with my passion for the idiosyncratic chord progressions and meters and the frequent modulations that define Mr. B.
And now the torch (maybe the torch song too) has been passed to a new generation in the form of What’s It All About?, a revue (it has no storyline, only a paragraph of dialog as a set) that re-thinks and re-packages the Bacharach songbook for millennials (though the night I was there the audience was composed largely of enthusiastic aging baby boomers).
What’s It All About, which was conceived by Kyle Riabko – he also did the musical arrangements, serves as musical director and is part of the seven-member ensemble – offers Burt stirred and shaken up, plugged and unplugged, angst-ridden and alienated, and in the case of a cover of “Message to Michael,” rocked out and ready for an arena. The play list consists of two dozen songs, among them “Don’t Make Me Over,” a cri de Coeur nicely sung by Nathaly Lopez; “ “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head;” a beyond delicious “What’s New Pussycat;” “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again;” and – ick – “That’s What Friends are For.” Some are delivered in mash-up versions. “What’s It All About,” for example, is wrapped up in “Magic Moments,” “Windows of the World” and “What the World Needs Now.”
I’m always game to hear Bacharach (see first paragraph), and Riabko, a veteran of Broadway’s Spring Awakening and Hair, is an abundantly talented charmer who’s put a welcome fresh gloss on that tiresome genre, the songbook show. But not all the other cast members are up to his level. Here I’m thinking of weak-voiced, inward-looking Laura Dreyfuss. The set design, which features lots of lamps and a couple of couches holding audience members, is opaque. And the staging by Steven Hoggett, the director of Once and of the critically acclaimed new production of The Glass Menagerie, is just plain maddening. Several numbers are performed on a turntable for no good reason, and I’m still puzzled by the half-dozen chairs that are placed on that same turntable at the beginning of “Walk on By” and remaine there for the duration of “A House Is Not a Home.” Was it meant, perhaps, to serve as a visual aid for the lyric “A chair is still a chair/ Even if there’s no one sitting there?” Or was it perhaps meant as existential commentary? Really, what’s it all about?