Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty have established themselves as one of the greatest living duo of musical song-writing, with musicals under their belt, such as Ragtime, Once on an Island, A Man of No Importance, and the film, Anastasia. Garnering wins from the Tonys, and nominations from both the Academy and the Grammys, Ahrens and Flaherty’s number of accolades are well upheld in this song cycle, which aims to showcase the highlights of their writing careers.
Presented by the newly formed Flourish Productions, after a successful run in Melbourne, The Songs of Ahrens & Flaherty brings a compilation of Ahrens and Flaherty’s notable and lesser-known tunes to the stage. Opening up with the captivating ‘The Streets of Dublin’ from A Man of No Importance, its set list includes songs from Dessa Rose, Ragtime, and their latest musical, Rocky. The song choices alternate between the intimate ballads, such as the sincere ‘At the Glen’ from Dessa Rose, to more upbeat group numbers, such as ‘Funny/The Duck Joke’ from My Favourite Year. If anything, this show does a superb job at reinforcing the genius of Ahrens & Flaherty, where their ability to tell stories, through the wit and the heartfelt are demonstrated beautifully here.
With no elaborate sets, the Hayes seems once again, the perfect setting to encapsulate the nuance, brilliance and the talent of its performers, and to allow its accompanying music to shine through. The show is held strongly by its small group of performers – consisting of Kathleen Amarant, Lucinda Barratt, Tim Carney, Andrew Hondromatidis, Joe Kosky and Catherine Langley – who excellently convey the emotion of the music to the stage. Some noteworthy numbers include the touching ‘Princess’ from A Man of No Importance, ‘Learn to Do It’ from Anastasia, ‘Journey On’ from Ragtime, and ‘My Nose Ain’t Broken’ from Rocky: The Musical. While sound balance was at times uneven, the vulnerability of a performer with microphones on an otherwise empty stage is nevertheless admirable, further exhibiting the impressiveness of its talented performers and its composer and lyricist.
Yet, despite its lack of extravagance, Matthew Lockitt’s direction works wonderfully – the show finds a middle ground between a musical and cabaret show – creating its own genre as a song cycle. Interlinking its numbers with its performers who remain on stage throughout its running time, each performance is a stage performance in its own right. It extends the idea of someone merely singing songs on a stage, and instead captures the authenticity and the context of Ahrens & Flaherty’s songs through the amalgamation of acting, dialogue and subtle technical choices. In this way, the show encompasses a layer of charm, which enables it to be accessible to both those familiar and unfamiliar with the material.
The Songs of Ahrens & Flaherty additionally offers an exclusive glimpse into a song from developing musical, The Little Dancer, with the number ‘Musicians and Dancers and Fools’. This gorgeously written song, alongside the up and coming workshopping of Anastasia to the Broadway stage, highlights the continual accomplishments that Ahrens & Flaherty will no doubt unveil in the future. With a praiseworthy cast, Flourish Productions’ show delightfully captures the best of their writing material, bringing to life the exceptional music of Ahrens & Flaherty.
Photo: James Terry (taken during Melbourne season)