Review: Ann Talman's THE SHADOW OF HER SMILE at 54 Below Elevates Elizabeth Taylor into the Light of Memory

A lifelong friendship leaning into a mother-daughter relationship makes for great cabaret.

By: Apr. 03, 2022
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Review: Ann Talman's THE SHADOW OF HER SMILE at 54 Below Elevates Elizabeth Taylor into the Light of Memory It was the show everyone has been waiting for. Maybe that is why it was nearly sold-out months ago, and maybe that is why Thursday night at 54 Below looked like The Bistro Awards of 2020 - at nearly every table was a member of the cabaret and concert community. Karen Mack, David Sabella, Ann Kittredge, Austin Pendleton, Susan Mack, Joanne Halev, and Sue Matsuki were just a few of the renowned artists in the room to support Ann Talman as she made her Feinstein's debut with her new one-woman musical cabaret THE SHADOW OF HER SMILE. Surely, one of the reasons these artists were out at 9:45 on a school night was because of the respect and admiration they feel for singing storyteller Talman, but there is no doubt they were also there to see what became of the show they have watched grow from a seedling, all these months.

Ann Talman is a devoted student of the Lina Koutrakos cabaret workshops and brought in an idea for a cabaret show. In those classes, over the passage of time, Koutrakos assisted in the development of the club act, so much so that she would eventually transition from development to director, guiding Ms. Talman through various iterations and titles until the program was ready to present - and when that time came, there really was no other choice but for the musical tribute to play 54 Below. This was a show that required absolute glamor and elegance.

Because this tribute cabaret is about Dame Elizabeth Taylor.

Review: Ann Talman's THE SHADOW OF HER SMILE at 54 Below Elevates Elizabeth Taylor into the Light of Memory Why, one might ask, would a cabaret storyteller create a musical cabaret centering around a woman with whom there are no musical associations? Dame Elizabeth did not do MGM musicals, she did not play in a Broadway musical, she did not record albums. Elizabeth Taylor did one musical movie, a film titled A Little Night Music for which many harbor great resentment and display much derision. While other artists working in cabaret and concert focus their tribute shows on Liza Minnelli and Whitney Houston, on Stephen Sondheim and Kander & Ebb, Ann Talman has created her tribute show around this legendary actress who did, in fact, not make her mark in the musical field. That is because The Shadow of Her Smile is not a tribute show - it is a memoir.

Elizabeth Taylor was Ann Talman's colleague, mentor, champion, supporter, and lifelong friend.

Review: Ann Talman's THE SHADOW OF HER SMILE at 54 Below Elevates Elizabeth Taylor into the Light of Memory Their relationship beginning when Ann was twenty-two and cast alongside the legend in The Little Foxes on Broadway, the two actresses started out playing mother and daughter and spent the rest of Ms. Taylor's life as de-facto mother and daughter; therein lies the spine of Talman's show. This thoroughly enchanting, completely personal program is nothing but a series of stories about the relationship the two women shared and how that relationship affected Ann's life. Since there are no musical associations to make with Taylor (except for Send in the Clowns), Talman has had to seek out musical compositions to incorporate into her script, one so well-constructed and with such a fine story arc that she could, well, jettison every piece of music and still have a great show. The expurgation of the tunes, though, would be a shame because they are all well-chosen and well-applied to the script. There is also the matter of Ann Talman's singing voice, a pretty one worth listening to that deserves to be heard. In her work with director Koutrakos and outstanding Musical Director Alex Rybeck, Ann Talman has created an evening of theater that is personal, intimate, authentic, and incredibly funny, largely (but not entirely) due to the eerily immaculate impression that she has perfected of Dame Elizabeth. Riding the highs and lows that have been built into her script, Talman displays impeccable comic timing and delivery in her stories and in her songs, so the play is already filled with moments both heartwarming and hilarious, but each and every time that she is afforded the opportunity to speak in Elizabeth Taylor's voice, humor is in the air because it turns out Dame Elizabeth was a very funny girl. Indeed, for those who grew up with Elizabeth Taylor, who watched her movies, who made her a part of their world, being in the room with Talman and hearing her talk in Taylor's voice was akin to being in the room with Elizabeth Taylor herself, once more. It was difficult to not, from time to time, get a little misty-eyed.

Review: Ann Talman's THE SHADOW OF HER SMILE at 54 Below Elevates Elizabeth Taylor into the Light of Memory For her maiden outing with The Shadow of Her Smile, Ms. Talman has curated everything from musical theater (by way of Pal Joey, Sweet Charity, Camelot, and others) to movies (themes from High Time, The Sandpiper, and Night Shift) and some particularly well-placed (and appropriate) Amanda McBroom (with Joel Silberman and Gerald Sternbach), with musical highlights rising out of the songs "Mira," "Ship in a Bottle," and Ms. Taylor's ballad from A Little Night Music. Storytelling highlights involved slumber parties, dieting, and the time ET met Ann's beloved father and brother. Never, at any moment of her musical storytelling, is Ms. Talman anything but present and purposeful; her examination and presentation of the lyrics remain as personally-informed as her own prose. She is an exceptional storyteller, in every aspect. Moving forward there is room for growth in the performance of the play - not in the script and not in the musical choices, but in the pacing of the piece, and that need for growth presents itself because what Talman has created here stands on its own as a new work.

Review: Ann Talman's THE SHADOW OF HER SMILE at 54 Below Elevates Elizabeth Taylor into the Light of Memory The structure of Talman's script follows that of shows that have come before, as dialogue segues into song segues into dialogue segues into song. This has always been an effective framework but Ann has taken it to new levels, sometimes using only a snippet of a composition before returning to her own writing, and other times following the musical story from start to finish before continuing with her script. As the program weaves in and out of the musical dialogue, audience members can be left uncertain as to whether or not Ann has reached the actual end of a musical number or what they have just heard is another snippet, leaving them tentatively wondering whether or not it is time to applaud, which, in turn, leaves Ms. Talman tentative about whether or not she should stop for applause after a full musical number. This creates a mutual energy of hesitance, throughout the performance, and the most likely way of sponging the aura from the air is for Ann Talman to keep moving, at all times. This is her story and it must be told in her rhythm, with or without applause. If, as she continues to perform this show, Ann will simply say the lines, sing the songs, and communicate with the audience (which she is very good at) without concern for when, where, and if there will be applause, the rhythm of the evening will sort itself out, between Ann and her audience. It's just a matter of getting the show up on its feet again and again, which Talman should have no trouble doing because The Shadow of Her Smile is an ideal piece of cabaret theater for nightclubs, libraries, Women's clubs, universities, black boxes, and (frankly) any venue where gay men gather. Because of the presence in the show of Elizabeth Taylor, gay men of all ages will want to hear Ann Talman's stories (and Elizabeth Taylor's voice). After all, we are talking about the first major celebrity to stand up and fight for the LGBTQIA+ community during the HIV/AIDS crisis, the first celebrity to start her own foundation (AMFAR), the biggest name in the fight against the pandemic: every member of the LGBT community should know who Elizabeth Taylor was, every member of the LGBT community should take an interest in learning and hearing more about Dame Elizabeth, every member of Queer Society should have Ann Talman's show or their radar. In fact, every person who cares about storytelling can benefit from a viewing of The Shadow of Her Smile because it is good storytelling by an expert of the art form, and that should be enough. It is only in the knowledge of who Elizabeth Taylor was that the story simply gets better, and better storytelling is something of which Elizabeth Taylor always approved.

It's going to be fun watching where Ann Talman and her musical memoir go and how many people it will touch. One suspects the number will be considerable.

Ann Talman The Shadow of Her Smile concluded its one-off performance but more great shows can be found on the 54 Below website HERE.

Ann Talman can be found online HERE.

Ann Talman gets a five out of five microphones rating for performing her entire show without the use of a lyric sheet, tablet, or music stand.

Review: Ann Talman's THE SHADOW OF HER SMILE at 54 Below Elevates Elizabeth Taylor into the Light of Memory

Review: Ann Talman's THE SHADOW OF HER SMILE at 54 Below Elevates Elizabeth Taylor into the Light of Memory Review: Ann Talman's THE SHADOW OF HER SMILE at 54 Below Elevates Elizabeth Taylor into the Light of Memory Review: Ann Talman's THE SHADOW OF HER SMILE at 54 Below Elevates Elizabeth Taylor into the Light of Memory

Review: Ann Talman's THE SHADOW OF HER SMILE at 54 Below Elevates Elizabeth Taylor into the Light of Memory

Review: Ann Talman's THE SHADOW OF HER SMILE at 54 Below Elevates Elizabeth Taylor into the Light of Memory Review: Ann Talman's THE SHADOW OF HER SMILE at 54 Below Elevates Elizabeth Taylor into the Light of Memory Review: Ann Talman's THE SHADOW OF HER SMILE at 54 Below Elevates Elizabeth Taylor into the Light of Memory Review: Ann Talman's THE SHADOW OF HER SMILE at 54 Below Elevates Elizabeth Taylor into the Light of Memory

Review: Ann Talman's THE SHADOW OF HER SMILE at 54 Below Elevates Elizabeth Taylor into the Light of Memory

Review: Ann Talman's THE SHADOW OF HER SMILE at 54 Below Elevates Elizabeth Taylor into the Light of Memory Photos by Stephen Mosher



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