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Theatre Review: What’s It All About? Bacharach Reimagined

Joan Marcus

Christopher White - published on 12/13/13

In this soulful musical review, Kyle Riabko and his fellow band members reimagine the work of the great Burt Bacharch for a new era.

“A House is not a Home when there’s no one there to share it with” sings Burt Bacharach in one of his most famous songs. Yet in the New York Theatre Workshop’s new production of What’s It All About? Bacharach Reimagined, the task of sharing a home is easily remedied as its stage is shared with audience and cast members alike. In this soulful musical review, Kyle Riabko and his fellow band members reimagine the work of the great Burt Bacharch for a new era.

The setting: one large living room, with chairs, sofas, lamps, and rugs spread throughout the theatre, including the walls. It’s about as quaint of a space as any to explore the works of one of the great American songwriters of the twentieth century. Among his many classic hits are “What the World Needs Now is Love,” “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.”

Bacharach made a career in music through his catchy jazz chords, clever harmonies, and bouncy tunes. His music swept the country during the 1960’s but if it were to be presented in its original form today, it would likely be dismissed as outdated or cliché. Enter Kyle Riabko, a twenty-five year old musician who discovered the work of Bacharach early on in his career and decided his generation deserved a chance to appreciate it anew. After meeting Bacharch a few years ago, he sought permission to rework his classic tunes with a slightly hipster, pop rock spin. It’s not simply a concert nor is it fully a musical – but call it what you want, it’s pure bliss.

This ninety-minute musical offers a fresh and inventive take on some of the great American jazz classics. Performed in the New York Theatre Workshop’s intimate home, this production is a meeting ground for longtime Bacharach lovers and downtown theatregoers simply itching to experience something less commercial. Regardless of the motivation, both parties are likely to be satisfied.

Riabko leads the seven-member ensemble cast, all of whom double as both singers and musicians. Directed by the very talented Steven Hoggett (choreographer of Once), this sung through musical isn’t interested in telling a particular story – instead, it’s focused on allowing audiences to remember their own stories or provide incentives to create new ones. The music of Bacharach famously accompanies tales of romance, heartbreak, and the simple pleasures of life. Call it passé if you like, but it’s found a new audience.

The New York Theatre Workshop has a rich history in serving as a stepping-stone for shows looking to make the leap to more commercial venues. In 1996, a young Jonathan Larson first staged his eventual Tony Award winning musical Rent in this very space, and just two years ago, Once started out here before also transferring to Broadway and winning its own Tony Award. What’s it All About? isn’t as ambitious in scope, nor should it be. At its heart, it’s a feel good musical that explores the perhaps previously hidden emotional depths of Bacharach’s music. For someone whose music career has spanned four decades, such work deserves careful treatment and the chance to explore it in fresh detail. Such is Riabko’s undertaking here, and he succeeds quite well – even Bacharach as endorsed the work, an unprecedented move on his part.

By evening’s end, you might still be asking yourself the question, indeed, What’s It All About? This musical doesn’t set out to provide a specific answer, but that’s actually part of the fun. If reimagination is the task at hand, then it extends not just to the stage performers, but also to the audience members alike. And for old time Bacharach fans that might think they’ll never fall in love again with the classics of a bygone era, it’s time to think again. What’s It All About? combines worlds old and new for a truly creative evening of musical theatre. And that in itself is reason enough to go.

What’s It All About?Bacharach Reimagined runs through January 5, 2014 at the New York Theatre Workshop. Music by 
Burt Bacharach, 
Lyrics by
 Hal David and others, and musical arrangements by
 Kyle Riabko.
 Directed by 
Steven Hoggett. 

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