'What's It All About? Bacharach Reimagined' review: The wrong kind of cool

Kyle Riabko, left, with composer Burt Bacharach. Riabko Kyle Riabko, left, with composer Burt Bacharach. Riabko performs new arrangements of Bacharach standards in "What's it All About?" at New York Theatre Workshop in Manhattan through Jan. 5. Photo Credit: Eric Ray Davidson

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REVIEW

If a sober hipster-pop exploration of easy-listening Burt Bacharach standards strikes you as a valuable pursuit, you may find meaning -- even enlightenment -- in the deadly self-serious effort called "What's It All About? Bacharach Reimagined."

To me, however, the 90-minute staged concert feels like a "Saturday Night Live" parody of a loopy mission -- a pompous, self-congratulatory pretense that seems to be screaming, "How cool are we? We're so cool that we're going to do the least cool thing, and you'll think we're cool because we're so cool."

This is the brainchild of Kyle Riabko, a young West Coast musician whose angst-driven mission is to bring the "depth and breadth" of "Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head" and "Alfie" to the eyes and ears of a new generation. He and six other singer-musicians frown sensitively and sway solemnly on a set that pretends to be a comfy club with old sofas, but looks more like a store for old lamps with hanging guitars and throw rugs as wallpaper.

All this would just be a stifled gigglefest if it were not produced at New York Theatre Workshop, the creative cauldron where "Rent" and, more pertinently, Broadway's enchanting musical "Once" began. The director here is Steven Hoggett, who choreographed the strange and wonderful ritualized hand ballets and unexpected gestures in "Once" and "Black Watch."

He superimposes too much of the same stylized poetic oddness -- plus two dizzying concentric turntables -- on performers trying to impress with the sincerity of their supposed haphazard naturalness and anti-fashion thrift-shop fashion. The clash of intentions between the director and Riabko makes them seem like poseurs in contradictory contrivances.

Riabko and his band of mopey sentimentalists like to intone a sad-sack bah-bah-bah or wah-wah-wah before working in such stubbornly jaunty lines as "What do you get when you fall in love" or "Why do birds suddenly appear" or "There are mountains and hillsides enough to climb." Bacharach, with his six Grammys and three Oscars, wrote iconic themes for '60s and '70s popcorn movies. He also wrote a number of beautiful breakup songs that wear their artistry lightly, with a shrug and a sigh. Heavy emoting is the wrong kind of cool.

WHAT "What's It All About? Bacharach Reimagined"

WHERE New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. Fourth St.

INFO $85; 212-279-4200, nytw.org

BOTTOM LINE What's new, pussycat, is what's wrong.

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