BWW Reviews: Cabaret Newcomer and New American MAXINE LINEHAN Begins Her Journey to Singing Stardom With New Show at Terminus Studios
Cabaret Reviews and Commentary by Stephen Hanks
Scott Siegel is two-for-two.
The diminutive and indefatigable nightlife / cabaret impresario of such productions as Broadway By the Year and the Nightlife Awards at Town Hall, as well as regular variety shows like Broadway Unplugged and Broadway Ballyhoo, last fall decided to give the already skyrocketing cabaret career of Georgia-born southern belle Carole J. Bufford a booster shot when he became the producer, director, and co-creator of Bufford's latest effort, Shades of Blue (which this Thursday night at 9:30 begins a weekly run at the Metropolitan Room). Siegel didn't waste much time finding another promising female singer to champion, producing and directing six new shows (on Wednesdays and Sundays between April 27 and May 14 at 7pm) featuring a lovely soprano who is also from the south--the south of Ireland, that is. Thirteen years ago, recently minted American citizen Maxine Linehan was just another starry-eyed singer/actress who traveled to New York City with dreams of a musical theater career. Today, if her May 4 performance at the Terminus Recording Studios is any indication, Siegel has another budding star on his performer roster.
It's extremely rare to attend a cabaret show or a mini-concert in a converted studio and serve as part of the audience during the recording of a live CD. But that's exactly how these six small crowds are experiencing Linehan's show, An American Journey, which is a modern day immigrant story that musically chronicles the singer's pilgrimage from her home in County Cork, Ireland to the Big Apple, and how she came to love the city, find the love of her life, become a mother, and prepare for her continuing career and life sojourn. It's an interesting and heartwarming tale and could make for a wonderfully intimate and engrossing cabaret show if An American Journey makes its way to a nightclub. Staged in a converted recording studio that is owned and managed by Linehan's husband, Andrew Koss (how's that for a clever way to save a few bucks on booking a club for a show and being able to record a CD at the same time?), the lovely Irish lass' story didn't have quite the resonance in a room where the audience was relegated to prop status. Sticking to a tight script show after show for the recording of a CD doesn't leave much room for the kind of performer spontaneity and audience interaction one can experience in a real cabaret show.
But the people came to hear Linehan sing her heart out and that she certainly did, employing her expressive soprano on both classic musical theater songs and contemporary pop tunes. With accomplished Musical Director Tracy Stark and her pulsating piano playing giving Linehan great support, and violinist Hiroko Taguchi and cellist Jim Pedersen supplying sophisticated sounds to Koss' excellent arrangements, Linehan sang with confidence, emotion, and, when called for, even humor. While at times she seemed to be singing over the audience (concentrating on the CD recording, no doubt) and came across as a bit too musical theater stagy in her movements, Linehan clearly exhibited the potential to be an outstanding cabaret performer if that is one of her goals.
Entering the studio wearing an elegant black cocktail dress, the attractive green-eyed, redhead ('natch) opened with "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," either a no-brainer for an immigrant-from-Ireland-tale or a total cliché, depending on your point of view. Linehan quickly built some vocal momentum with a medley of "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This" from Sweet Charity and "Sail Away" from the 1961 Noel Coward musical of the same name, and then she really took off on a dramatic and soaring arrangement of Craig Carnelia's "Flight." To represent the notion of an "idealized vision of a new place where you hope reality is like the vision," she offered "Bali Hai," the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein ballad from South Pacific (Maxine understudied the role of "Bloody Mary" in the 2009 national tour of the musical). Linehan tapped into all of her expressive musical theater acting skills and went into Big Band lounge singer style on Kurt Weill's "I'm A Stranger Here Myself," gesturing, cajoling, and making her eyes dance on a bluesy arrangement.
As mentioned in some previous reviews, I could go the rest of my life without hearing Stephen Sondheim's "What More Do I Need?" from Saturday Night, or "Pure Imagination" from Willy Wonka in another cabaret show, but, thankfully, Linehan's renditions were lovely and entertaining, as she acted out almost every phrase on the former and on the latter sounded like an Irish Julie Andrews. She displayed her excellent range, articulation of lyrics, and ability to easily transition from musical theater style singing into a pop music vocal on "Walk On," by her home country's most famous rock band, U2, and on a powerful and fierce rendition--with a great string arrangement--of "You Don't Own Me" (which she has recorded as a single). (Please click on Page 2 below to continue.)
The most heartfelt and emotional moments of the set came when Linehan talked of the generational importance of creating a legacy for and through one's children, and the mother of two offered "In My Daughter's Eyes," the 2003 Martina McBride hit written by James T. Slater. Naturally, the Dad, Andrew Koss joined in on guitar. Linehan expressed how deeply devoted she felt about her adopted country with "The House I Live In," a song that would be wonderful to hear this new American citizen sing in front of Congress the next time our do-nothing representatives talk about taking a vote on immigration reform. For her finale and encore, Linehan fittingly selected two Julie Gold songs, "The Journey" and "Good Night, New York."
"I've been to sorrow . . . I've been to bliss . . . Where I'll be tomorrow . . . I can only guess . . ." Linehan sang during "The Journey," before admitting that, "the journey continues." Our guess is that where she might be tomorrow is standing on a stage accepting some kind of cabaret award. She should definitely enjoy the journey to get there.
Maxine Linehan performs An American Journey at Terminus Recording Studios, 723 7th Avenue, Penthouse, between 48th and 49th Streets. Wednesday May 7, Sunday May 11, Wednesday May 14. Doors 6:00pm | Show 7:00pm. Ticket:s $30 All Inclusive. Price includes drinks. No minimum, tax or gratuity.