Review - Triumphant Baby & The Columnist
Match.com ain't got nuthin' on New York's cabaret scene, where composers, lyricists and performers are constantly on the lookout for perfect mates; whether for a lifetime commitment or just a brief, but mutually satisfying, fling.
Back in 2006, musical theatre collaborators Joe Iconis and Robert Maddock had some highly successful dates with singer/actress Lorinda Lisitza. And while the trio hasn't been exclusive in the ensuing years, their affair, a fascinatingly diverse song cycle called Triumphant Baby, was remembered by voters who presented the show with a Nightlife Award (for the performer) and a Bistro Award (for the writers).
And if there were awards for revivals of cabaret shows, I'm sure Triumphant Baby's return engagement at the Metropolitan Room would be in the running for a couple of more trophies. Iconis' broad-ranging styles of music and Maddock's colorful, poignant and character-specific lyrics vividly architect 13 diverse ladies - some comic, some tragic, often maddening - which the chameleon-like Lisitza, under Brad Oscar's direction, brings to life in a musical theatre acting tutorial that charms and thrills.
Perhaps the signature tune of the show, thanks to YouTube exposure, is "Yolanda At The Bottom Of The Stairs," a folksy, Eastern-European number where Lisitza plays a woman taking revenge on the tart who messed with her man with goulish expressions and a goulash accent. ("I settled the score with one little shove / And sending you to kingdom come is what I did for love.") The comic number is perfectly placed at the end of a musical triptych that begins with the singer's husky country vocals for "Almost," about a woman's disappointment in never getting quite what she needed from her relationship and segues into a fragile-to-brassy performance of "One Step Closer To Crazy."
She switches to the kind of airy head voice typical of ingénues in early movie musicals for the devastating ballad, "The Kind That Falls," where Lisitza chillingly portrays the 1930s wannabe starlet Peg Entwhistle, who jumped off the Hollywood sign to her death instead of facing her failed movie career.
The show's title song is an immensely catchy bubblegum anthem where the singer cheerfully tries to pick up the spirits of a loved one ("You've got crippled viewpoints and morbid quotes / But I'm coming at ya with root beer floats.") and while Iconis pens another hummable hook for "Popular Opinion," Maddock supplies a harsh commentary on the public's yearning for dirt on the people they've lifted into celebrity.
Other highlights include the mischievously sexy "Just As Long As You And I Are In Cahoots," "Eddie Got A Color T.V." (a comical ditty about a wife trying to seduce her husband away from the tube) and "Camden County Penitentiary," sung from the perspective of a woman who suddenly has no idea where her life is going because her husband is never getting out of jail.
With the composer at piano, Mike Perry on guitar and mandolin, Matt Wigton on double bass and background vocals by Tanya Holt and Liz Lark Brown the evening's spirited arrangements are just as diverse as the material. Triumphant Baby is a classy, ebullient affair matching exceptional material with an exceptional singer/actress.
I guess there's something about John Lithgow that smells of fresh newsprint. After playing fictional gossip columnists in both Sweet Smell of Success and Mr. and Mrs. Fitch, he now takes a crack at the real thing in David Auburn's portrait of the powerful Washington journalist Joseph Alsop, The Columnist.
It's a lifetime thick with newsworthy material. A Washington bon vivant and closeted homosexual, Alsop was a champion of FDR's New Deal, an enemy of both McCarthy and the Communists and a close friend of JFK, but his support of Nixon's aggressive policies in conducting the Vietnam War made him seem out of touch by the 1970s. But Auburn's episodic approach makes the evening more of a highlight reel. Though his dialogue is sharp and his scenes provide punch, they never coalesce into a satisfying play.
But it's the kind of role that Lithgow can devour with relish and his excellent performance - boastfully dapper and elegant, hiding a fragile, suspicious interior - keeps the evening humming. And electric sparks do fly when his uneasy relationship with his sometimes-partner journalist brother (the also excellent Boyd Gaines, making the most of a second banana role) starts boiling over.