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BWW Review: BETH LEAVEL: IT'S NOT ABOUT ME is a Bravura Triumph at 54 Below

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Beth Leavel is the Hardest-Working Woman in Show Business

BWW Review: BETH LEAVEL: IT'S NOT ABOUT ME is a Bravura Triumph at 54 Below

Tony-award winner Beth Leavel (The Prom, The Drowsy Chaperone) has made a career out of going too far. Her two most famous roles were delightfully over-the-top women with a healthy dose of self-obsession. Her comedic style is always to ride right up to the line and pause for just long enough to make you think "Oh no, she won't go there. It would just be too outrageous." And then of course she does the thing that no one else would do, leaving you howling with laughter. The old vaudevillians called it "chutzpah." Lucille Ball had it. Penny Marshall had it. Bette Midler has it. And Beth Leavel has it in spades. Her courage to just keep moving the line is why we love her.

Her new show, IT'S NOT ABOUT ME, which opened tonight at 54 Below is brimming over with her trademark chutzpah. But it is also heartfelt, smart, honest, and surprisingly vulnerable. Thanks to the pandemic, which she repeatedly described as "twenty-seven years long," Beth Leavel was visibly as grateful to be in front of an audience as her audience was to be in her presence once more.BWW Review: BETH LEAVEL: IT'S NOT ABOUT ME is a Bravura Triumph at 54 Below

She sang all the hits you wanted her to sing, starting out with "It's Not About Me" from The Prom. She shifted gears with " I Get a Kick Out of You." She paused mid-song for an extended monologue about being trapped in her apartment for 16 months with her fiancee. It became a device for the whole evening. She frequently stopped mid-song to tell stories, ask questions and make confessions. She used the idea of sitting around watching Netflix and eating carbs as a prelude to launching into "Some People" from Gypsy. Producers considering another Broadway revival, take note.

She sang one of my favorite blue songs of all time, Kander & Ebb's "Everybody's Girl" from Steel Pier. She then gave us one of her signature songs, a not-so-drowsy version of "As We Stumble Along." The song was just as fresh and alive as it was the day she won the Tony for it. And by the way, the Tony award itself made a guest appearance in tonight's show.

At the mid-point of the show, she sat down on a stool and took questions from the audience. It was a marvelous sort of Carol Burnett moment. She took song requests from the audience, even taking sheet music from one audience member to sing a chorus of "Poor Unfortunate Souls" from The Little Mermaid.

Having shown us her amazing skill at comedy, Ms. Leavel used the last part of her show to demonstrate that she is also a fine dramatic actress. She dedicated Sondheim's "Not While I'm Around" and "Children Will Listen" to all the LGBTQ youths whose lives were changed by The Prom. She dedicated Adam Gwon's beautiful song, "I'll Be Here" to her son. She gave us the entire Dolly Levi monologue that precedes "Before the Parade Passes By," finding colors that even Carol Channing didn't think of. And when she finally got around to the song, it was a moment of absolute joy. Again, producers, take note.BWW Review: BETH LEAVEL: IT'S NOT ABOUT ME is a Bravura Triumph at 54 Below

Beth Leavel was supported by one of Broadway's finest musical directors, Phil Reno. His arrangements were wonderful and he was the perfect foil for Leavel's lightning-quick wit. She was also supported by the excellent Perry Cavary and Michael Kuennan. They all showed off their wonderful musicianship in the encore, "The Lady's Improving" from The Prom. It was an exuberant finale that showcased all the gifts of one of Broadway's most gifted and beloved stars.

For more information on Beth Leavel visit bethleavel.net or follow her @bethleavel on Instagram. For more wonderful artists at 54below, go to 54below.com.


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