A Brief History of White Music” aims to have a little fun at the expense of white singers and songwriters from the 1940s through the 1970s, and does so with a first-rate combination of gentle humor, musical arrangements and performances that shine a fresh light on the music. Its 28 songs whet the appetite for 28 more.
The show presents its point of view – that “white” music lacks soul – without getting heavy-handed or heavy-hearted. Despite the stated premise, some numbers
are simply presented in solid swinging versions that honor the originals, particularly the big-band songs “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” and “I Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” at the start of the show. Other songs, including “I Got You, Babe”
and “Itsy Bitsy, Teeny Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini” get a good ribbing, though no permanent damage is done.
Although the show’s premise, conceived by DeeDee Thomas and David Tweedy, is little more than an excuse for having three terrific singers strut their stuff, the selections are thought-provoking, a reminder of the many diverse roots from which American pop music has grown. Although “History” makes fun of the songs, their inherent value is not diminished.
A revealing moment occurs when the program reaches the mid-1960s and the California sound of the Mamas & Papas and the Beach Boys. These songs lend
themselves to a more comical treatment, suggesting the loss of “authenticity” that occurs when the music moves to the suburbs.
The show ends with the performance of a half-dozen Beatles songs, including James Alexander’s grindingly sexy rendition of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” Also impressive are the creative presentations by Wendy Edmead and Deborah Keeling of songs made famous by the female stars of the British Invasion: Lulu, Petula Clark and Dusty Springfield.
Ken Roberson’s direction and choreography never flag. The show’s musical arrangements find opportunities for fun or passion in every number, and the design team of Felix E. Cochren (sets), Debra Stein (costumes) and Alan Keen
(lights) has made the stage of the newly relocated Village Gate seem large, warm and welcoming.