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Philip Quast - Live at the Donmar

Philip Quast is an actor who sings, not a singer who acts. His singing voice is powerful and emotive, but doesn't have the obvious training of other performers who've achieved fame in musical theatre. Philip Quast - Live at the Donmar is his first solo album, though he's justly appeared on a number of cast recordings. The eighteen tracks, including five written especially for him, were recorded live when Quast appeared as part of the Divas at the Donmar programme in 2002.

I liked the songs where he was able to tell a story and create a character best: Charles Aznavour and Herbert Kretzmer's "Happy Anniversary" for instance which he made amusing and sad at the same time. Or "Color and Light" from Sunday in the Park with George which, with reworked lyrics and running commentary, Quast turns into a charming and touching tale of his own experiences as an expectant father and nervous star of the London production of that Sondheim show.

The six piece band (led and arranged by Jason Robert Brown) turns Frank Loesser's "The King's New Clothes" into a minor tour de force. Quast does the one-note-joke song great justice - more than it deserves actually.

Other songs don't work quite as well. He seemed to have a bit of problem winding his way around the serpentine melody of John Latouche and Jerome Moross's "Lazy Afternoon". I'm not sure though if that's the song or the singing as I'm not familiar with The Golden Apple, the show which originated the piece.

Quast's take on Springsteen's "I'm on Fire" and Sting's "Every Breath You Take", conjoined rock classics sung in a rich and cultured baritone, reminded me of Michael Crawford's "Gethsemene". It's not a bad rendition, it's probably actually quite good - but it's also sung in an unexpected style that takes a bit of getting used to. Springsteen's "The River", later on the CD, conversely works quite well. Either because I'd gotten used to the juxtaposition or because it's much more of a story song than the other two and so - as mentioned above - suits Quast well.

I'm assuming that the Diva performances were miked, or that the venue is a small one, because there are many quiet songs or quiet renditions of usually bombastic songs, like "Some Enchanted Evening". On the other hand he amply lets loose in the frantic "And they're off" from William Finn's A New Brain or the anthemic "I Was Here" by Ahrens and Flaherty (a song whose sentiments I relate to but wish I liked more melodically... maybe on a second listen).

Philip Quast - Live at the Donmar isn't going to become a favourite album based on a live show. It doesn't have the wit of Combo Fiasco - Here or the intimate passion of Alison Fraser - A New York Romance. But it does make me regret having missed the show, and if evoking jealousy is a measure of a CD's success, then this one gets full marks. Damn it.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 29, 2005 12:39 AM.

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