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Review - Don't Cry For Me, Cinderella

There is no truth to the rumor that at tonight's closing performance of Evita, Ann Harada played Peron's Mistress and sang "Why Would A Fellow Want A Girl Like Her?"

The difference between enjoying a good nightclub singer and being completely enthralled by an exceptional cabaret artist can easily be recognized onstage at The Metropolitan Room as Carole J. Bufford - who cannot possibly be as young and relatively inexperienced as her brief resume indicates - displays the interpretive skills, stage savvy and snazzy audience rapport that stirs buzz and excitement long after the servers have been properly tipped. In a time when New York has sadly been losing some of its more prominent cabaret venues, a performer like Bufford makes you think of the hot spots to come where she'll no doubt be headlining.

I first became aware of Ms. Bufford at one of Scott Siegel's Town Hall concerts, where her thrilling performance of "Can't Help Lovin' That Man Of Mine" progressed from a sweetly affectionate love song to a defiant declaration challenging anyone who would dare question her right to be devoted to whomever her heart chooses. Her fresh and unexpected interpretation and her gripping execution received roars of approval from the seasoned subscribers.

That selection is just one of the many highlights of Body and Soul, a collection of varying songs of love and lust, conceived and produced by Siegel. With chameleon-like skills, the slender, bobbed-haired, impishly youthful performer displays superior musical theatre acting technique, both physically and vocally, that subtly transforms her into the world of each song; most strikingly apparent when she follows a vicious, powerfully merciless interpretation of "Cry Me A River" with a fragile, painfully still and vulnerable rendering of "Cottage For Sale." As with the rest of her program, like her sardonically inquisitive and wounded "What Is This Thing Called Love?," both songs are infused with a subtext that stretches beyond the surface content of the music and lyrics.

The excellent arrangements are by music director Ian Herman, who, at piano, is joined by bassist Matt Wigton, but there is no stage director mentioned, making me think that either some talented sole is being cheated out of a credit or Ms. Bufford has a remarkable sense of what looks and sounds good on her; bringing polished, period honky-tonk authenticity to the nearly 100 year old "Baby, Won't You Please Come Home?," steaming up the joint with a hot and bluesy "Low, Short and Squatty" and easing classic elegance into the evening's title tune.

Though her voice plays it straight for The Sherman Brothers' "Good Time Girl," a warning for soldiers to keep it clean while overseas, her expressive eyes reveal more playful thoughts. Her sweet, ingénue-like delivery of Earl Brent's "Say That We're Sweethearts Again" gets maximum comic mileage out of its violent lyric depicting outlandishly low self-esteem.

But whether she's flirtatiously growling through a hot swing arrangement of "Your Kisses Kill Me" or softly devoted in an endearing "Fade Into You," what remains constant is the intelligence with which she colors every lyric, bringing interesting new shadings to old standards and making less-familiar numbers pop out at the audience.

Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay Ms. Bufford at this time is to say that she's the kind of young, unknown performer that makes a critic want to review his assessment of her work a few extra times to make sure his effusive praise wasn't overdone. But who knows, perhaps one day people will speak of Carole J. Bufford's appearances at The Metropolitan Room the same way they now speak of appearances by certain young singers that were once seen at The Blue Angel, Les Mouches and the Continental Baths.

Photos by Lynn Redmile.

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From This Author Ben Peltz