THEATER REVIEW:“Everybody’s Talkin’: The Music of Harry Nilsson”

If you’re a troglodyte like me and have no idea who Harry Nilsson was, worry not. Just get yourself a ticket to the world premiere of “Everybody’s Talkin’: The Music of Harry Nilsson” and you’ll be back with the cognoscenti in no time.
(Hint: the answer is “songwriter.”)

This engaging show (running through June 21 at San Diego Repertory Theatre) will give you a taste of many of his songs, cleverly arranged by Steve Gunderson and wonderfully performed by Gregory Jbara, Alice Ripley and Kürt Norby.

Here are a few details about this prolific songwriter and two-time Grammy winner, whose songs have been featured in countless TV shows and numerous films from “You’ve Got Mail” to “Reservoir Dogs.”

Abandoned by his father in Brooklyn, he moved with his mother and half-sister from one relative to another, finally ending up in Los Angeles. He dropped out of school and got a job at the Paramount Theater, which featured live rock and roll shows. He learned piano chords from performers there and began writing songs himself after the Paramount closed.

The Beatles became his biggest fans (John Lennon called Nilsson his favorite “group”). His tenor voice is famous, though he never toured and rarely performed in public, preferring to work in the studio. He died in 1994.

San Diego’s own Tony winner Ripley (for “Next To Normal”) can shake the theater’s rafters with her powerful voice or tug at your heart with ballads like “Something True” and “I Said Goodbye To Me.”

Jbara, a 2009 Tony winner for his performance in “Billy Elliot,” scores with his lovely baritone voice on a variety of song styles from the frank “You’re Breaking My Heart” to the new-agey group song “What’s Your Sign?” and the novelty “Coconut Song” (“You put the lime in the coconut”).

Nilsson was a tenor who had what Ringo Starr called “the greatest voice on Planet Earth.” Local favorite Norby does justice to the tenor-range songs, and Musical Director Korrie Poliotto does the soprano honors on songs like “Think About Your Troubles.”

Sean Fanning’s circular walkway surrounding the onstage band gives the trio working space and a few gauzy drops hide a performer at appropriate times.

Gregg Barnes contributes excellent costumes; Philippe Bergman’s lighting and Kevin Anthenill’s sound design are also appropriate. Unfortunately, Daniel Fine’s projections are superfluous and a bit distracting.

Kudos to Director Javier Velasco and Gunderson, whose song placements and musical arrangements create almost a real plot (about the rise and fall of a romance) and include some fascinating three-part polyphonic stylings along the way.

If you’re a Nilsson fan, don’t miss this. If you’re not, this fine production may make you one by the time you leave the theater.

The details

“Everybody’s Talkin’ The Music of Harry Nilsson” plays through June 21, 2015 at San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, Downtown.

Showtimes are: Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2, 4 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm

Tickets: (619) 544-1000 or www.sdrep.org

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.