by Sandor Slomovits
From the November, 2014 issue
Susan Werner's fan base likely does not include many right-wing Republicans. She makes her own politics clear in a song about Barack Obama's election titled, "The Night We Won the War." It's also doubtful that many members of certain religious sects-the ones convinced that theirs is the only way to salvation-sing her praises when they hear what she calls her "agnostic gospel songs." In one of those, riffing on the Lord's Prayer, she sings, "Lord lead us not into temptation/But deliver us from those who think they're you."
She can probably live without them. Her songs have found an audience of people who share her sentiments and, more importantly, recognize and appreciate her multiple musical skills.
Those skills are not only numerous, but also complex, compelling, and highly entertaining. Though she's not afraid to thumb her nose at stances with which she disagrees, her shows feature songs-her own, as well as tunes from Broadway musicals and classics from the Great American Songbook-about many aspects of the human condition.
Her songwriting style, with its surprising inner and end rhymes, atypical phrase lengths, and elegant melodies, has as much or more in common with the composers and lyricists who wrote for Broadway and Hollywood as it does with the singer-songwriters who followed in Woody Guthrie's footsteps. She's also a sure handed switch-hitter, accompanying herself expertly on both piano and guitar, and she sings everything convincingly-by turns a crooner and a belter, she is able to give each song the treatment it deserves. And there's her witty and wry, clearly spontaneous, between-songs patter. At an Ark show a few years ago she playfully flirted with a guy in the front row and then joked with his wife and daughter sitting beside him, "The family that strays together, stays together?"
When Werner returns to Ann Arbor this month, she is likely to bring some songs from her latest project, which is a real departure from, and at the same time a logical extension of,
her previous work: a new musical based on the popular movie Bull Durham. The musical had a highly successful run in Atlanta in September and may be Broadway bound next spring. Ron Shelton, who wrote and directed the 1988 movie, also wrote the book for the musical. Werner's musical skills-and perhaps also her political and religious views, which may have resonated with those of Annie, the show's heroine-made her the obvious choice to write the musical's songs.
Werner will bring a bit of baseball and Broadway, and much more, when she visits the Ark on November 2.
[Originally published in November, 2014.]
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