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New York Festival of Song pokes gentle fun at politics in Vocal Arts D.C. show

By Charles T. Downey,

The chance to hear some gentle fun poked at America’s political obsessions was welcome Monday night, especially as it coincided with the final presidential debate. The occasion was the 25th anniversary of the New York Festival of Song, which gave its annual performance for Vocal Arts D.C. in the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater.

To celebrate the milestone, artistic director Steven Blier revived “Mr. Gershwin Goes to Washington,” a 1997 compilation of songs from George and Ira Gershwin’s three politically themed musicals, woven together with updated twists by Laurence Maslon. Alongside a lot of (perhaps too many) Gershwin songs, from “Strike Up the Band,” “Of Thee I Sing,” and “Let ’Em Eat Cake” — plus the Burton Lane song “In Our United State,” included because Ira Gershwin wrote the lyrics — were easy jokes about the 47 percent and binders full of women. The idea pulling together the three plots, a stretch by themselves, was a set of NPR broadcasts covering the faux presidential race, narrated by public radio host Carl Kasell.

Although the show was certainly fun and charmingly directed by Maslon, this was far from the cup of tea expected of a Vocal Arts D.C. event. For one thing, it was not primarily about beautiful voices, aside from soprano Anne-Carolyn Bird, who took high-note duty all night. The other three cast members — Broadway singer Marc Kudisch, actress Lauren Worsham and television personality David Garrison — sang with more verve than polish. Blier partnered for the first time with Joseph Thalken on second piano, with peppy and bluesy results.

Downey is a freelance writer.

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