Listen to My Heart at TBPAC reviewed

I was resistant at first. “Listen to My Heart,” the musical revue based on the songs of David Friedman now at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, flirts dangerously with sugar shock, starting with the composer’s bio. Friedman, a Broadway and film conductor known for producing the CDs of the late, much-beloved cabaret singer Nancy Lamott, describes his oeuvre as  “…songs of inspiration, love and hope that take on new emotional meaning in these challenging times.” Sure enough, when fiercely happy-faced singers exhort the audience to “Open Your Eyes to Love” because “Help Is On the Way,” the revue threatens to shift from uplift to “Up with People.” And early on, when the company surrounds Friedman at the piano, lovingly touching his shoulders and singing to him as much as to the audience, you might be forgiven for assuming the show could have been subtitled All About Dave.

But as directed by Rick Criswell and Karla Hartley, Listen to My Heart moves beyond just a celebration of one man’s inner voices to become a showcase for five terrific singer/actors, including three of the best female musical theater performers in the Bay area. Heather Krueger brings a heartbreaking delicacy to “You’ll Always Be My Baby” about a mother and daughter. Alison Burns’ lyrical precision locates both the yearning and the irony in “Nothing In Common.” And the second act opens with a triple whammy: a wrenching performance of “Catch Me” by John Sawyer, followed by Fred Ross’ tender “I Can Hold You” and Nadeen Holloway’s rip-roaring “My Simple Wish.”  (Her simple wish? To be “rich, famous & powerful!”) Despair, redemption, greed — it’s the national mood, wrapped up in one haunting, then hilarious package. In fact, you could almost say these songs “take on new emotional meaning in these challenging times.”

You can still see the show tonight (Saturday Dec. 6) at 7:30 p.m. or tomorrow (Sunday Dec. 7) at 4 p.m. in TBPAC’s TECO Theatre. Stay for the post-show discussion and tell Friedman and company how you liked it; Listen to My Heart has been workshopped before, but Friedman told Friday’s audience that this cast is his favorite so far, and there’s talk of restaging the production someday in TBPAC’s Jaeb Theatre.

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