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Review - Christine Pedi Sings Sheldon Harnick: A Matchless Match

On Monday night Christine Pedi will be receiving a New York Nightlife Award for Great Dames, her 2007 salute to notable ladies of the stage and screen. But as award-worthy as that cabaret show was, her latest, Now I Have Everything: The Lyrics of Sheldon Harnick, is even better. This is a master class in musical theatre acting and a heck of an entertaining night out.

"It's very hard for me to hear bad lyrics after being immersed in the work of Sheldon Harnick," Pedi tells her Metropolitan Room audience at the outset. Indeed, Harnick, most known for his collaborations with composer Jerry Bock (Fiddler On The Roof, She Loves Me, The Apple Tree and Fiorello! were their biggest hits.) is one of the Broadway musical's premiere lyrical dramatists. But perhaps he doesn't get as much credit for it as a Stephen Sondheim because most of the characters he's written for have been everyday people (Tevye the milkman, Amalia the shop girl, Adam and Eve - man and woman in their most basic form) with simple ambitions. There's little room for verbal flashiness there, but his words help paint vividly real and compassionately human portraits.

"Hearing these words, I know what these characters had for breakfast," is how Pedi puts it.

And while Christine Pedi is most known for her long-time association with Forbidden Broadway, where over the years she's played hilarious and exacting parodies of Bernadette Peters, Elaine Stritch, Judi Dench, Ethel Merman, Patti LuPone and just about any other musical theatre diva you can name, this time we don't get Pedi as Barbara Cook singing "Vanilla Ice Cream" or as Zero Mostel warbling "If I Were A Rich Man." (Although she does have a very clever comic bit involving that Fiddler classic.) Instead we get an actress who digs deep into her material to reveal unexpected moments of emotional honestly and empathetic humor from songs you may have heard dozens of times. We also get the exceptional work of Pedi's long-time music director/pianist Matthew Ward, who not only comes up with non-traditional arrangements that sound so right, but also pops in with some cheery vocals on a couple of occasions.

A swirling waltz blending "No Song More Pleasing" from Rex (music by Richard Rodgers) and the title song from She Loves Me (changed to "He Loves Me") gives a complete picture of the beginnings of being in love and the realization that your special someone returns the emotion, building to a rapturous finish. In "Dear Sweet Sewing Machine," a lullaby for the tailor Motel and his wife, Tzeitel, which was cut from Fiddler On the Roof, she softly conveys the happiness of seeing a future with your loved one and the children you're going to have growing financially secure. "Dear Friend," where a woman fears she may have been stood up for a blind date, is sung with simple hopeful elegance.

On the funnier side she turns "Gorgeous" into the kind of self-encouraging pep-up number one might use while getting ready for a night out and plays a trio of Tammany Hall crooks innocently explaining their sudden wealth in "Little Tin Box." "The Ballad of The Shape of Things," a mock art song from The Littlest Revue that has words and music by Harnick, gives Pedi a brief detour into the kind of broad comedy she does so well, as does a very funny take on the old-fashioned ballad "Artificial Flowers," but the knockout performance of the night is the best rendition of "A Trip To The Library" I've ever heard, full of the spontaneity and vivid character work that goes with good story-telling.

Pedi tells me that only days before the show's opening she had the opportunity to visit Sheldon Harnick and he introduced her to some of his more obscure material. There wasn't enough time for her to place new songs in by opening night, but she does plan to have more material added through the course of the run, which is scheduled for January 28th and February 3rd, 4th, 10th and 11th at 7pm. I believe a return visit is in order for me. Hope to see you there.


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