An old cliche says “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” In the case of New York City based singer and actor Sean Patrick Murtagh’s debut CD Mario 101: A Celebration of the Mario Lanza Songbook, that first impression doesn’t NEED a second chance. From the very first notes, the listener knows that the combination of Murtagh’s lush, meticulously trained voice and Yasuhiko Fakuota’s flawless piano is going to make a perfect combination. Their chemistry as artists is so strong, in fact, that no additional musical adornment is needed.
Sean Patrick Murtagh made his cabaret debut in 2019 with his unambiguously named show Mario! A Salute to the Great Lanza. In the short amount of time that he has been entertaining audiences with his gifted vocal talents (both live onstage and via virtual performances during the pandemic), this charismatic tenor has won several envied awards in Manhattan’s colorful and diverse cabaret scene. In case you didn’t guess by his body of work so far, Mario Lanza continues to be Murtagh’s personal hero: In an interview for Stephen Mosher of Broadway World, Murtagh said of Lanza, “His legacy will forever be an inspiration and aspiration for me.” For his debut CD, the handsome “cantante” chose to further explore some familiar territory. Murtagh has chosen 12 songs inspired by Mr. Lanza, who was a popular Hollywood actor in the late ’40’s and ’50’s, and arguably American popular culture’s most famous tenor of all time. Lanza’s discography included 22 albums and 76 singles. Murtagh’s selection of songs on his new CD range from ageless standards like Cole Porter’s Night and Day to several songs sung in Italian and Spanish. Of course, given the CD’s source of inspiration, readers need not ask if the 12-song collection includes the timeless Neapolitan song O Sole Mio. Murtagh takes the oft-redone classic and gives it a youthful, revitalized touch, without surrendering any of the song’s transgenerationally timeless quality. I firmly believe that Murtagh’s version of this familiar melody should be the last song we listen to before closing our eyes for the night (or for the morning, if you’re a nightlife person…) Every song on Mario 101, starting with the first track On the Street Where You Live (from the Broadway musical My Fair Lady), features what I am hereby declaring “the Murtagh moment“: the note where Sean really hits the sky with THAT note… This is why, incidentally, Sean has become an “open mic favorite” in New York City: every song has (Wait for it…!) THAT note which brings the house down. Every song is elevated to the level of a mini showstopper. It is worth mentioning that some of the songs actually have more than one “Murtagh moment” thrown in. Don’t say you weren’t warned!
It may be a cliche for a reviewer to say that a singer “makes every song his own”. In Murtagh’s case, however, this is an apt description. An example is the sixth track, Cole Porter’s eternal favorite I Got You Under My Skin. This song has been reworked by hundreds of artists, from Sinatra to Neneh Cherry. While some artists have offered a playful take on the classic, Sean’s version is one of feverish romanticism, a recurrent them on the CD. That feverish romanticism works equally well regardless of whether he is singing in English or in the Romance (ahem…) languages. And This is My Beloved from the 1953 musical Kismet becomes a musical interpretation of idealized “amore”; the song really puts the “L-O-V-E” in “beloved”. Speak Low is probably the best example of Murtagh’s range. A playful moment comes on the CD with Faniculo Fanicula, another Neapolitan song composed in 1880 (!) which was written, interestingly, to commemorate the opening of the first funicular railway on Mount Vesuvius. Performed by Murtagh, it’s joyous and exuberant, with high-spirited piano by Fakuota to match. To complete the “Neapolitan trilogy”, Murtagh gives the audience Torna a Surriento (“Come Back to Sorrento”). In addition to the CD’s four Italian songs (E lucevan le stelle [“And the stars were shining”], from Tosca, being the fourth), Murtagh also offers a song in Spanish. Besame Mucho, in a piece of trivia, was recognized in 1999 as the most recorded and covered song in Spanish of all time. Sean more than does the song “justicia”.
By now you may be wondering if you need to be a Mario Lanza fan to appreciate Sean Patrick Murtagh’s Mario 101. The answer is the same in English, Italian, or Spanish: NO! Sean may have been inspired by his idol in many ways, but Lanza’s biggest bit of influence may have been the artistic commitment to each and every song. Murtagh has clearly worked hard to perfect his talents, and it shows. Few singers would be confident enough to take on, for example, Danny Boy (the song whose universal musical legacy can never be underrated) and make the listener forget all previous versions with his delivery. Now, that’s what I call having a (Murtagh) moment!
You can purchase Mario 101: A Celebration of the Mario Lanza Songbook and see much more about Sean Patrick Murtagh at www.seanpatrickmurtagh.com.