Review: Salome

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Patricia Racette’s assured performance in the title role is the main reason to catch the Met’s current revival of Richard Strauss’s 1905 opera Salome. It is a musically complex and demanding role, so it’s no small feat that Racette makes it look and sound easy. The role also covers a lot of vocal range, and Racette rumbled at the bottom and roared at the top, with no sign of strain at either end.

Based on Oscar Wilde’s 1891 play of the same name, Salome tells of the titular stepdaughter of the tetrarch Herod Antipas, who requests the head of John the Baptist (here called “Jochanaan”) on a silver platter as a reward for granting Herod’s request that she perform “the dance of the seven veils.”

Racette performed choreographer Doug Varone’s Dance of the Seven Veils with great verve. The costuming and some of the steps at this point were reminiscent of Weimar Germany, and indeed Racette comported herself like Marlene Deitrich at her most vampy.

This production’s Jochanaan, baritone Željko Lučić, was truly robust in both acting and singing. Tenor Gerhard Siegel gave us a Herod of great vocal nimbleness and power. Mezzo-soprano Nancy Fabiola Herrera as Salome’s mother, Herodias, had a clarion voice and gleeful intensity that brought this smaller role out in higher relief than usual.

Conductor Johannes Debus packs his account of Strauss’s High Romantic score with incisive intelligence and gleaming passion. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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Review: Norm Lewis

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This Christmas cabaret is one of the more conventional ones I’ve seen this year – and that’s entirely a good thing. In the spirit of his own favorite singer, Johnny Mathis, Norm Lewis’s show leans into holiday fun and warmth. It’s not an entirely shallow show – there are dark shadows here and there – but the emphasis is on Christmas’s pleasures and joys.

And it’s not strictly a Christmas show. He opens with a frisky “My Favorite Things” – so frisky in fact that he slightly lost track of the lyrics “First night people, first night!” he said with a big ingratiating grin. Lewis assays “Fever”, which Peggy Lee made famous, but he gives it back some of the r&b flavor of its original singer Little Willie John.

Norm was nominated for a Tony a few season back for his performance as Porgy in Porgy & Bess – garnered in no small part for his glowing performance of the song “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’”. His version is like the sun coming out after a grimly cloudy day; he repeats it here, and it has lost none of its luster.

In tribute to Mathis, he does one of Johnny’s signature songs “Misty”. Lewis’s rich baritone is similar to Mathis’s but more powerful, and he takes the song to new heights. Indeed he favors the audience with powerful belting several times throughout the evening in showcases like “Mary, Did You Know”, “The Impossible Dream” and “Music of the Night”. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: Jinkx Monsoon & Major Scales

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‘Tis the season – time for drag queens to work a holiday theme to buy Mama a new pair of shoes! There’s a joke in Jinkx Monsoon’s current Xmas show that makes that explicit – “Why do we put ourselves through doing holiday shows? For the paycheck!!!” This particular show also features her musical counterpart, pianist/composer/raconteur Major Scales, and is called Christmas Mourning, mostly in response to the election.

Their biggest hit, The Vaudevillians, was a real stunner, a thoroughly thought-out evening of cabaret theatre, which successfully staked their claim to be regarded as major players in the worlds of both high drag and cabaret. This show is almost as structured – which is very unusual for holiday drag shows. Monsoon and Scales are more entertaining and smart than the vast majority of the competition, which is why they’re capable of producing a holiday drag show that’s nearly as high concept as The Vaudevillians.

They share traumatic Christmas stories, sing a Lana Del Rey song with “exactly as much effort as she herself puts into performing it” and give Mariah Carey the bird. They even sing a couple of strong original songs. One cheekily pays tribute to being gender-fluid. The other (a solo for Scales) pictures a passive-agressive dinner with Trump-voting relatives.

Christmas Mourning is light years more thoughtful than your typical holiday drag act, while rarely being less than acidly hilarious. It’s somewhat similar to Mx. Justin Vivian Bond’s holiday shows – very funny but with genuine rage and love just below the surface. Don’t miss it!

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

News: Simply Barbra Holiday Show: The Music, The Mem’ries, The Matzo…

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Steven Brinberg is the premier Barbra Streisand impressionist, who has taken his act, “Simply Barbra”, to international acclaim both on stage and television (performing on several occasions with none other than Streisand buddy Marvin Hamlisch) paying homage to all that is Streisand. Steven does not lip-sync but does a stunningly accurate singing impressionism of Streisand.

Steven will be doing Simply Barbra Holiday Show: The Music, The Mem’ries, The Matzo… at Feinstein’s / 54 Below this Sunday, December 18. It’s an evening of holiday tunes, Streisand classics and glimpses of other divas from Cher to Bea Arthur. All performed live, no lip synching. Look for a special guest star to join Barbra to help ring in the holidays – and sing some famous Christmas songs written by Jewish composers.

Steven Brinberg has been acclaimed for his vocal performance of Barbra Streisand for over a decade around the world. In addition to touring all over America he has also played extensively in England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, Thailand, Spain, Mexico and Canada…more cities then the real Barbra! Steven was hired by Streisand’s management to perform at her friend Donna Karan’s birthday party.

The show contains songs from both The Christmas Album – “probably more from that one,” Steven notes, and Christmas Memories. “It’s funny,” says Steven, “I change the show constantly especially the talking. At one point, I referred to James Brolin as a famous B movie and TV actor, at another point I took the B out. The challenge in keeping the shows fresh after so many years is helped by Barbra still being such a presence. Keeps it current. And I’m always free to sing songs she has never done, as I know exactly how she might do them down to the last breath. I had been singing ‘Make Someone Happy’ in the show years before she recorded it. And the end result when she did it was pretty close. I was surprised though that she changed her phrasing on the lyric from ‘Love is the ansuh’ to ‘Love is the anserrr’ perhaps to plug the title of the album!”

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: Orfeh and Andy Karl

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Big-piped (and married) musical theatre couple Orfeh and Andy Karl aren’t delivering any particular story or message in their current club act at Feinstein’s / 54 Below. Pleasantly enough, they simply sing songs that suit their voices – soulful and wild in her case, poppy and tuneful in his (note to Andy, though: the band When in Rome, whose hit “The Promise” you sing so beautifully and tastefully, have absolutely nothing to do with Depeche Mode, as you said they did). They also touch on songs they’ve done in the musical theatre, including the lovely ballad for Andy called “Seeing You” from the upcoming Groundhog Day.

They met doing Saturday Night Fever on Broadway and married soon after, but most people associate the two of them, as a couple anyway, with Legally Blonde The Musical, in which they played a couple. Orfeh is definitely the bigger powerhouse singer, as she demonstrates repeatedly, most stunningly in a rendition of “Piece of my Heart” that happily recalls Janis Joplin without being a slavish imitation. But Andy’s voice is a fine instrument, too, and he acts the lyrics of his songs with a conviction and clarity that many cabaret performers would do well to imitate.

They don’t sing a large number of songs, so the evening flies by – without being too short, it has a welcome sense of economy. This is not quite cabaret heaven, but a briskly entertaining, smartly executed look into the musical toolboxes of a couple of canny performers. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: L’Amour de Loin

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Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s much-praised 2000 opera has a darkly shimmering beauty to it, and director Robert Lepage has created a gorgeous production for its Met premiere that leans powerfully into that shimmering quality. Lepage and set designer Michael Curry have draped strip after strip of LED lights across the immense Met stage. With those strips, “lightscape image designer” Lionel Arnould paints constantly shifting washes of color that vary from evocative abstractions to almost realistic representations of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, and suits Saariaho’s music to a “T”.

There’s precious little to the plot of L’Amour de loin. Very loosely based on the legend of French troubadour prince Jaufré Rudel (c. 1100-c. 1147), it tells of Jaufré’s idealized love for a woman he has never seen – Clémence, countess of a Crusader colony in Lebanon – with messages brought back and forth by an unnamed, androgynous, seafaring Pilgrim.

Saariaho’s music may sparkle, but it’s also dissonant – influenced as much by the steely atonality of Webern as the hazy sensuality of Debussy. Saariaho has also incorporated material redolent of the medieval era, including actual melodic elements from Jaufré’s own songs. When these primitively tonal melodies emerge out of the dark tides of Saariaho’s music, the effect is remarkable. It happens first in a passage sung by the pilgrim, sung here with resonant gravitas by Tamara Mumford, and it’s like a sunset breaking through the clouds.

Making her Met debut, conductor Susanna Mälkki navigates the complexities of the score with great assuredness and expressiveness. Susanna Phillips, as Clémence, gets a plethora of bravura passages and high notes which she handles with great power and musical intelligence. As Jaufré, Eric Owens is the production’s beating heart, bringing great passion to even the most devilishly difficult sections. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.