NYT article re Kyle Riabko/Bacharach Reimagined

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Bill Minnick
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NYT article re Kyle Riabko/Bacharach Reimagined

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The site itself also features a video clip of Mr. Riabko doing a short 3-song medley.

December 11, 2013
This Guy’s in Love With Your Songs
Burt Bacharach’s canon of effervescent pop classics belongs to the world, no question; a guy who could turn out hits for artists encompassing Perry Como and El DeBarge clearly has no trouble writing for a wide audience. But for generations of pop-music obsessives and fellow musicians, Mr. Bacharach’s distinctive compositional sophistication — those uneven time signatures, the rich jazz chords — has made him a folk hero.

Now lending that music something of an actual folk sound is “What’s It All About? Bacharach Reimagined” at New York Theater Workshop. Kyle Riabko, the show’s 26-year-old music director and lead performer, has arranged the songs for a cast of singer-musicians in an intimate, largely acoustic style that suggests acts like Mumford & Sons or Fleet Foxes.

Reviews have largely been good; in The New York Times, Charles Isherwood wrote that the show “reinvigorates the staged-songbook genre by stripping familiar pop songs of their shiny veneer.” And Mr. Bacharach himself, 85, who said in a recent phone interview that he has “totally disliked” most previous attempts to stage his songs, has given Mr. Riabko’s effort his “unqualified” blessing.

“It’s like you’re getting a love letter from somebody,” he said of the show.

Offstage, Mr. Riabko, dressed in stovepipe jeans and a knit cap, would fit right in at a scruffy open-mike night. He released a pop album in 2005 before appearing on Broadway in “Spring Awakening” and “Hair.” After a matinee Mr. Riabko spoke with Rob Weinert-Kendt about how he came to work with the pop veteran. These are excerpts from their conversation.

Q. The “reimagining” here seems mainly to consist of rearranging piano-based songs for the guitar.

A. Well, I grew up behind a guitar. I started when I was 9 or 10. Where I grew up in Saskatoon [Saskatchewan], it’s the home of two things: Joni Mitchell, and this bar called Bud’s on Broadway, which is intensely bluesy. On Saturdays they let kids in, for whatever godforsaken reason, and I’d bring my electric guitar and they’d let me onstage and jam.

What sold you on Mr. Bacharach’s music?

I was working with him in the studio [on another theater project], and what knocked me out was the experience of his musicality in the first person. Generally I’m used to singing to a piano or guitar track that’s click-tracked [to a mechanized tempo], but I showed up and we were two human beings — I was in the vocal booth, he was in the piano booth and we were ebbing and flowing together. When I realized that even a genius of his caliber still prefers to do that, I realized this is a very, very special guy.

After steeping yourself in his songs, are there common themes you hear in his work?

The thing about Burt is that he always wrote for the content, and never for the form. He never wrote verse-chorus-verse-middle-eight because that’s what you do; he did a handmade sculpture for each thing he wanted to say, with his lyricists. Because it’s so handmade, I feel like it’s very rebellious, actually — a little bit punk rock. I started seeing him more as of a rebel in the world of music as opposed to just a pop composer.

How would you compare the style of singing required for Broadway shows and this one?

For tenors in the theater, it’s so clear that singing high is a big part of your night; you become a bit of a robotic instrument that either works or doesn’t, as opposed to a soulful musician. Also I think it’s because of what we watch on TV, with all the singing competitions: If you don’t hit a big note, you don’t win the competition. But when you start to arrange things for the sake of soul and not for the sake of a big note at the end, it sounds more like a recording.

Harry Nilsson and Simon & Garfunkel, even Randy Newman — they’re the singers that touch me. Randy Newman’s never hit a big note in his life, and he can still make me cry.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/15/theat ... .html?_r=1&

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