Christine Pedi as... Christine Pedi?
"Just be yourself" is not the advice you'd give a young performer hoping to become the next Christine Pedi. A ten year veteran of Gerard Alessandrini's Forbidden Broadway and Forbidden Hollywood, where she sang as such diverse celebrities as Judi Dench, Elaine Stritch, Rosie Perez and Patti LuPone, Pedi has parlayed her gift for mimicry into a career's worth of guest appearances as Liza, Angie, Julie and the like in cabarets and concerts throughout New York. Her most recent solo show, the hilarious Forbidden Divas, included a stunning rendition of "I Will Survive" sung by her one-woman quartet of Eartha Kitt, Carol Channing, Bette Davis and Ethel Merman, where she'd completely transform herself from one character to another and another with breathtaking quickness.
But for the next few evenings we'll have the rare opportunity to see Christine Pedi as Chistine Pedi. Wonderful Songs, her tribute to the lyrics of Betty Comden and Adoph Green, provides a perfect match of performer to material and showcases a singing comic actress of Broadway quality.
Commonly referred to as the quintessential writers of New York musicals, what with On the Town, Wonderful Town, and Bells are Ringing being just a few of their shows set in Gotham, Pedi reminds us that Comden and Green also wrote uniquely strong and independent female characters in non-traditional roles. You didn't see many women anthropologists, cab drivers or business owners in the 1940's and 50's, but they were a part of everyday life in Comden and Green's Manhattan. These women sang no "woe is me" torch songs, but rather looked at lost romantic opportunities with level-headed acceptance ("The Party's Over") or as creative motivation ("100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man").
Possessing an elegant sense of moxie that can snap to broad clowning in the moment it takes to sharpen a note, Pedi naturally excels at comic songs such as the aforementioned "100 Easy Ways...", "A Perfect Relationship", "If You Hadn't But You Did", "Babette" and (an unexpected, but brilliant choice) "I Rise Again". With her high cheekbones and wide features making her look remarkably similar to Ms. Comden, Pedi seems to have trained each facial muscle to work independently, knowing the exact eyebrow movement, nose crinkle or mouth curl needed to get the maximum comic effect out of a beat or syllable. Her ballads are also effective, sung with a clear, simple alto and interesting acting choices that fully serve the material.
Mark Nadler's arrangements provide special insights for those in the know, enhancing many songs with subtle (and when appropriate, not-so-subtle) musical references to other Comden and Green classics, played with knowing emphasis by pianist Matthew Ward. The evening's highlight is Nadler's frantic musical tour of "New York in sixteen hours", taking us from "I feel like I'm not out of bed yet" to the resolution that "Every day that comes comes once in a lifetime" through bits and pieces of what must be at least two dozen Comden and Green songs.
With her ingratiating presence, knack for intelligent comedy and ability to be both daffy and vulnerable, Christine Pedi's talents are perfectly suited for the musical comedy stage. But for now Wonderful Songs is a charming vehicle for her, and for one of the genre's most endearing partnerships.