Asolo Rep in Sarasota explores the history of the baritone

mclear@bradenton.comJune 5, 2014 

From left, Mark Delavan, Marc Kudisch and Jeff Mattsey in Asolo Rep's production of "Baritones UnBound." Frank Atura/PUBLICITY PHOTO

Baritones, Marc Kudisch said, have never gotten the respect they deserve.

It's the most common male voice, but for centuries, no one wrote music for baritones.

"Not until 1810," Kudisch said. "1810. Now consider that at that point we had been making music for 750 years. There was the tenor, there was the bass, and that was it."

The baritone had a relatively short time in the sun, he said. Starting around the 1970s, theatrical composers turned their attention to tenors, and vocals groups such as the Three Tenors and the Ten Tenors became sensations in opera and popular music.

Kudisch, a Tony-nominated star of Broadway musicals, is, of course, a baritone, so he takes personally those seven-and-a-half centuries of being ignored.

He's one of the stars and co-creator of "Baritones Unbound: Celebrating the UnCommon Voice of the Common Man." It's opening Saturday at the Asolo Repertory Theater.

Kudisch is joined in the cast by two other acclaimed baritones, Mark Delavan and Jeff Mattsey, both of whom are primarily opera singers.

The show explores what make the most common male voice so special, through classic works of opera, musical theater and popular music.

No matter what the genre, Kudisch said, the show's writers were careful to include songs that everyone is going to know and most people love.

"If it's opera, it's opera you know," he said. "Operetta, you know it. Broadway, you know it. Pop music, you know it."

There's an undeniable educational agenda to "Baritones Unbound," Kudisch said, as it traces the development of works for baritones by such composers as Verdi, Rossini, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Sondheim, all the way up through such singers as Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra and some of the great baritones of rock 'n' roll.

But it's far from a dry treatise. The reviews from the shows premiere in the Boston area last year talked about how fun and entertaining it is. "The show has no lowlights," one Boston critic wrote.

"Baritones Unbound" had its genesis in a one-man show that Kudisch originated, and later expanded into its present form.

"It's great to see the baritone's place in the history of music," he said.

One thing the show does not do, Kudisch said, is explain why the baritone voice has been overlooked for so much of that history.

"That's not a question for us to answer," he said. "That's something the audience has to decide."

Details: June 7-29 at the Mertz Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $20-$62. Information: 941-351-8000, asolorep.org.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919.

Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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