Four singer-actors, three musicians, and more than a dozen composers and lyricists add up to an enchanting evening of cabaret called “Never Far From Home: Love Songs About Leaving.”
Presented by Central Square Theatre, the Cabaret Series is a continuation of a collaboration that began two years ago as an opportunity for audiences to hear the work of local composers, performed in a relaxed, cabaret setting. The current “Never Far From Home” collects 17 original songs and one parody, all of which explore the notion of following your dream, even when it means frustration, separation, miscommunication, and homesickness.
In a rich mix of music, Cheo Bourne, Jennifer Ellis, Brian Richard Robinson, and Kami Smith all have the opportunity to take the spotlight on their own to showcase their unique vocal talents and then blend together for some haunting harmonies. Director Megan Sandberg-Zakian and music director Tim Maurice have a strong sense of the arc of the songs, arranging them to create a frame that highlights the theme of leaving (“Pack Up Your Suitcase,” by Nathan Leigh and “Green Line Ride” by Paulo K. Tirol), longing (the gorgeous “Memorized” by Tirol, which feels like it was lifted directly from a Broadway musical) and love (the sexy, bluesy “Sous Chef” by Deborah Henson-Conant and “Leave the Moon On” by Hannah Cranton).
Local rock star-playwright Lydia Diamond (“Stick Fly”) created a story line of sorts to link the songs, but the transitions work best when her playful dialogue offers insight into the performers and their relationships with each other. In the story, Bourne has moved on to find work in New York and several songs focus on the funny and frustrating life of aspiring actors, including the hilarious “Cast Me” (Maurice and De’Lon Grant), “Complaining” (Henson-Conant) and “When Dreams Die,” a clever parody of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” with lyrics by John Sheehy, Smith, and Sandberg-Zakian.
The final section of “Never Far From Home” emphasizes the solid foundation home can provide, and two of the show’s best numbers are found here: “Navigator,” music by Thomas Caruso, lyrics by Michael Cooper, and the title song, “Never Far From Home” by Michael Wartofsky.
Scenic designer Dahlia Al-Habieli has created a warm, inviting collection of playing areas that suggest home, including a fireplace, twinkly lights, and a simple table and chairs. Sandberg-Zakian strikes the right balance of keeping her singers at their microphones and then stepping away, giving the show a sense of flow.
The trio of musicians, including Maurice at the piano, Christina Stripling on the cello, and Zachary Hardy on percussion, provide tasty accompaniment for the singers. The song arrangements allow space for the musicians to be creative, particularly percussionist Hardy, without ever overwhelming the singers or the songs.
“Never Far From Home” is a delightful summer treat: an opportunity to hear original music by local composers performed by musicians and singers in a lovely cabaret setting.
Terry Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.