Reviewer: Ian Foster
Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty have enjoyed a prolific writing career stretching over three decades and in celebration of their 30 year working relationship, held a series of concerts at 54 Below which have now been immortalised on their double CD Nice Fighting You: A 30th Anniversary Celebration Live at 54 BELOW. The collection looks back at the past, to shows like Ragtime and Seussical but also keeps an eye on the present – their Rocky the Musical is currently playing on Broadway – and the future with forthcoming show Little Dancer being showcased.
With so much material to choose from both in terms of an extensive back catalogue and multiple concert performances thereof, it is perhaps unsurprising that Ahrens and Flaherty opted for the double CD format which allows them to feature well over 30 of their songs, sung by a great array of talented artists. But it also means that it becomes quite the hefty beast, an album aimed at fans rather than the casual listener, something emphasised by the inclusion of spoken interludes from the writers and singers introducing their songs.
These constant reminders that they’re at a cabaret at which we are not present can occasionally have an alienating effect which outweighs their illustratory benefit but it is easy enough to skip these tracks if you find them as frustrating as this reviewer. And there’s no denying the quality of so many of these songs, especially the excerpts from the soaring score to Ragtime. Brian Stokes Mitchell and LaChanze smashing ‘Wheels of a Dream’ and Marin Mazzie bringing an aching beauty to a medley of ‘Goodbye Mr Love’ and ‘Back to Before’ are two of the undoubted highlights.
Stephanie J Block and Jeremy Jordan’s tasters from Little Dancer suggest it will be a show to look out for especially if these two wonderful performers are involved, Sean McCourt and Jessica Molaskey’s contributions from A Man of No Importance serve as a reminder of the gently beautiful quality of that show and Mary Testa brings a great sense of humour to proceedings. Across the two discs, it is Liz Callaway who really shines though, whether on Anastasia’s‘Journey from the Past’, Rocky’s gorgeous ‘Raining’ or the quirkiness of ‘Never Knew The Guy’ from the unproduced Bedazzled.
In some ways, Nice Fighting You is well-suited to the task in hand, providing fans of Ahrens and Flaherty with a wide-ranging career retrospective that delves thoroughly into their work. And it is an indulgence that they have certainly earned, even if some may find that making a playlist of their favourite tracks off this collection is a better way to listen to it.