CROSSING OVER is a new music
theater cabaret with Tom Bogdan (vocals) and Harry Huff (piano), directed by
Terry Creach. The title of the show has a double-meaning. On one hand, it
refers to that new hybrid genre of the American art song which "crosses over"
the boundaries of classical music and the best of pop and musical theater.
On the other hand, it contrasts the two sides of our post-9/11
minds: the side which is heightened by patriotism and fear, and the side which
embraces the precious dullness of our everyday lives. Tom Bogdan is a pioneer
of "cross over" singing. His concerts have also been considered definitive
works in the application of the gay sensibility to music.
Commentary on our state
of mind since the terrorist attacks is inevitable, and this evening aims to
provocatively juxtapose our media-driven, heightened emotions with our longing
for "normal" existence. Throughout, Bogden will move through differing
kinds of 9/11 imagery. "Crossing Over" develops the notion of our
heightened awareness of the gap between " media reality"--where nothing
seems to matter beside war and terrorism--and the fact that we seem to struggle
on, with out meager loves, health concerns and overdue bills. The evening culminates
with Meredith Monk's "New York Requiem," which was originally written
in response to the AIDS crisis which seems to be most pertinent now after the
losses at the World Trade Center.
Bogdan received a Bessie
Award as a member of Meredith Monk's Vocal Ensemble and has appeared as soloist
with opera companies, choruses, symphony orchestras and at music festivals
throughout the USA. He is on the faculty of Bennington College and has recorded
on ECM, Electra, Catalyst, Columbia, Vox Premier and Turnabout Records. He
has previously explored the unique niche of cross over singing in his eclectic
cabaret show as well as two theater pieces, "Tell Me the Truth About Love" and
"L'Amour Bleu." Both were presented by Danspace Project in NYC and
the last, subtitled "a gay celebration of love in song," is offered
Bogdan was a fairly conventional
legit singer until his musical life was "re-invented" when he began
working with Meredith Monk in 1990. Reviews of his classical career repeatedly
attest to the sweetness and expressiveness of his voice and the vibrant color,
drama and emotion he brought to the poetry he sang. Deborah Jowitt (The Village
Voice), reviewing "Tell Me the Truth About Love," called the work
"a recital shaped with rare sensitivity into a theater piece" and
Bogdan "more than a fine tenor. He shapes a song with body, soul, and
Stephen Holden (The New
York Times), reviewing a cabaret show by Bogdan at Horn of Plenty, chronicled
the evolution of the singer as one who had made his name as a young Baroque
singer and successfully located a "middle ground between the formal refinement
of the Baroque aria and the more freewheeling, idiomatic manner of contemporary
pop." He elaborated, "Endowed with a pure, quivering high tenor that
shades into an even more ethereal countertenor, he turns pop songs into almost
The La MaMa evening features
compositions by Ricky Ian Gordon, Meredith Monk, Chris DeBlasio, Tom Bogdan,
Donald Ashwander, Richard Hundley and others. Overall, the music will have a
classical integrity and resonance with an immediate accessibility that crosses
over musical boundaries and speaks easily to the heart and imagination as the
best pop or musical theater.
Stephen Andrews (LGNY),
reviewing the CD release of "L'Amour Bleu," called Bogdan "a
unique talent who defies easy classification as a singer and performance artist,"
adding, "Certainly he's the only tenor I know of who can do Bach's 'St.
Matthew Passion' one night, Peter Allen the next, and a Meredith Monk show the
following evening." Distinguishing Bogdan from practitioners of too-familiar
naive gay musical happenings, he wrote, "Naiveté is surely not
a problem for Bogdan--his creation goes so far afield that he pretty much breaks
the mold of gay performance art. He achieves this with a vivid imagination
and the help of some of the big guns of musical creation ."
Pianist Harry Huff
has been a long-time collaborator with Bogdan. He has also collaborated with
many other celebrated and diverse performers including Jessye Norman, Haken
Hagegard, Judy Collins, Meredith Monk, Bill T. Jones, Lar Lubavitch, Martha
Schlamme, Al Hirt and Eleanor Steber. For two years he was pianist at the Oak
Room of the Plaza, where he appeared with Joan Rivers and Barbara Streisand.
He is also an acclaimed organist.
Creach is a noted choreographer and artistic director of Creach/Company
(formerly Creach/Koester), the company of six men he founded in 1980 with Stephen
Koester. He previously staged Bogdan's "Tell Me the Truth About Love."
New York Times Review
January 8, 2002
by Anthony Tommasini
New Meanings in Old Songs, in Tribute to the Dead
The mixing of different
artistic styles and genres is often taken as a sign of vitality. But there
are pitfalls to this undertaking.
It's one thing when, say,
opera composers bring elements of musical theater into their works, and vice
versa. But too much stylistic mixing can result in amorphous works that lack
clear roots and the grounding of a tradition.
Nevertheless, a new
generation of American song composers, among them Ricky Ian Gordon and John
Musto, have been merging elements of the art song, the musical theater song
and the pop song in their works. In recent years the tenor Tom Bogdan has
championed such songs. With his colleague Harry Huff, a pianist, and the
director Terry Creach, Mr. Bogdan has put together a new music-theater cabaret
show, "Crossing-Over," which
opened on Thursday night at the Club at La MaMa, the storied East Village
theater and cabaret still going strong at 40.
The title of "Crossing-Over,"
which runs through Sunday, has a couple of meanings, as Mr. Bogdan told the
audience. On one level, he said, it simply describes a group of composers
who "can't quite be categorized," whose songs aim to be "expressive,
passionate and, especially, accessible." More important, Mr. Bogdan
said, the title refers to the collective crossing over of a perceptual
divide that we have all experienced since Sept. 11.
Suddenly songs Mr.
Bogdan has sung for a long time spoke to him anew, he said, as presented
in works by Mr. Gordon, Mr. Musto, his longtime colleague Meredith Monk and
the gifted composers Chris DeBlasio and Richard Hundley. Their themes
heartbreak, loss, illness, prejudice, the struggles of gay relationships,
the anxieties and routines of busy urban life, the balm of nature
did take on more resonance.
The show's concept was
simple. Mr. Bogdan wanted to recreate the atmosphere of musical soirees at
Mr. Huff's home. The piano was decked with photographs of friends and loved
ones. Nearby was an old easy chair, a reading lamp, a small table also crowded
with photographs, and a pile of rumpled newspapers on the floor.
Mr. Bogdan's program was
intended as a tribute to friends who died over the years, some from AIDS,
one who lost his life in the World Trade towers, even his cat, a companion
for 20 years. As he told stories in between the 16 songs, he lighted candles
and created a shrine of remembrance on the steps to the stage. This was clearly
meaningful to him and no doubt to some members of the audience. But it also
had the effect of turning the cabaret show into a sometimes maudlin memorial,
for which criticism seems inappropriate.
format Mr. Bogdan devised for what was, in effect, a song recital, was interesting.
Away from the protocols of the concert hall, the cabaret setting was an apt
and pleasant place to hear works like Mr. Musto's "Litany,"
a wistful setting of a powerful Langston Hughes poem, and two beautiful songs
by Mr. Hundley: a lilting, bittersweet setting of Robert Louis Stevenson's
"For Your Delight" and a harmonically poignant love song to Kenneth
Patchen's "Maiden Snow."
Though Mr. Gordon
has ardent admirers, I find his work terribly uneven. In general he is best
when direct, lyrical and unabashedly sentimental, as in "Will There Really Be a Morning" (Emily
Dickinson) and "Luck"
(Hughes). When he tries to use genres for irony or humor, he can be stiff and
lame, as in "Coyotes" his tango-tinged setting of a Ray Underwood
Mr. Bogdan has worked prominently
as a tenor in Baroque and contemporary music ensembles, including Ms. Monk's,
but his voice now seems somewhat worn. When he sings quietly, his sound is
sweet and his words wonderfully clear. When he tries for power, his voice
gets badly strained and patchy.
He deserves credit
for offering an alternative way to experience art songs that cross styles.
Ultimately, though, "Crossing-Over" is a deeply personal work,
and that is also its limitation.