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It’s hard to imagine a more delightful evening — sitting in IWU’s beautiful Main Lounge with an adult beverage, a bowl of popcorn, and the thrilling vocals of three pros (Jennifer Rusk, Joe Penrod, Cristen Monson) singing engaging music that you don’t know, but feel as if you do know.

“Starting Here, Starting Now” is a revue of some two-dozen songs by the team of lyricist Richard Malby Jr. and composer David Shire.

Many of these songs were written for shows that either closed quickly or didn’t make it to stage. But while the shows didn’t stand the test of time, the songs most certainly do. In fact, they shine on their own.

The musical style is pure Americana with a buoyant ’70s feel. The songs are mostly about love — good, bad or indifferent. They flow along naturally and nothing feels forced, a credit to both the music and the performers.

Each song is a mini-show inside itself, thanks to the brilliance of the lyrics and this trio’s ability to access a different character in every song.

Each song builds to something, a change in character or mood or a surprise change of circumstance, sometimes all three.

This show requires, and here gets, singers who can act and actors who can sing.

Director Cyndee Brown has everyone switching it up quickly with props, stools and clever choreography. Songs are solo, duet and trio and often overlap in all three categories.

Musical director Andrew Voelker is splendid on the piano, playing an intricate score with ease.

Rusk takes a star turn in “Crossword Puzzle,” a song that’s so dang clever one wishes she’d sing it twice.

As she fills in the puzzle, intricate word and letter associations point to a missing lover and by the end of the song we know the reasons why.

“Autumn,” a solo for Monson, is hauntingly beautiful. Barbra Streisand once recorded it, along with other Shire tunes.

Penrod has a showstopper in “I Don’t Remember Christmas,” a song that begins in bravado and ends in heartbreaking honesty.

This is rare night of warmhearted music performed by talented professionals.

On a scale of five, five stars.

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Brokaw is a freelance writer who reviews plays for The Pantagraph.


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