Crafting a cabaret performance that’s cohesive as well as charming isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do. Fortunately for me, Andrea Bell Wolff, with the help of a great team of musicians and terrific musical direction, managed to more than pull it off on Saturday night at Don’t Tell Mama with her new show, “Prisoner of Love.”
Andrea herself is a sprightly, bubbly musical theatre vet, and has a story or two to tell about her life on the road, but one of the most interesting things about her show is the choice of songs. Many of them are playful, but just as many are thoughtful, heartfelt, and dovetail seamlessly into her own life story. The songs are given an extra dash of poignancy once Andrea reveals that the arrangements were done by the late Barry Levitt, who passed away just a few short months before the show went up.
Director Peter Napolitano and Musical Director Mathew Martin Ward keep the show moving and the pace varied, and pieces like Kander and Ebb’s “Colored Lights” and a cover of Sheena Easton’s “Morning Train” pop lightly along, while more introspective pieces like Joni Mitchell’s “River” deepen the experience. There is even an original song, the titular “Prisoner of Love”, written by Napolitano and the late Levitt, that reminds us that musical theatre pieces can have breadth and depth as well as being tuneful and catchy.
Bell Wolff is absolutely charming and very engaging as both a singer and raconteur, and she brings the right tone to each song in the show, whether it’s Sondheim (Could I Leave You?) or James Brown (a very earthy rendition of “This is a Man’s World”). I particularly enjoyed “Other Lady”, a Leslie Gore tune that one doesn’t hear all that often.
Keeping Ward on piano company is John Miller on bass, Howie Gordon on drums and percussion, and Rob Thomas on violin, and the quartet provided a delightfully full and coordinated sound without overwhelming the audience in close quarters.
Andrea’s show was only scheduled for one night, so my normal plug to see it doesn’t apply here. However, I’m certain she’ll perform it again sometime soon, and Don’t Tell Mama Cabaret’s brick room will be the better for it.
Sidney Meyer’s Don’t Tell Mama Restaurant and Piano Bar [http://donttellmamanyc.com/] on 46th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues, has shows seven days a week, with matinee’s on Saturdays and Sundays.