BWW Review: BETSY WOLFE: Laid Back and Ready for Stardom at Feinstein's / 54 Below
There is a moment in the middle of her evening at Feinstein's / 54 Below that Betsy Wolfe, body still, fingers on one hand erect, takes a breath. The song is "Landslide," the reflective Stevie Nicks standard, and eyeing the crowd, Wolfe seems to be taking it all in.
Over the past decade, the leggy, intelligent blonde has risen to become one of Broadway's brightest talents. As we've come to find out over the course of the evening, there have been plumb roles Off-Broadway (THE LAST FIVE YEARS) and on (THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD, FALSETTOS). There have been appearances with symphonies around the country, and intimate club dates with some of Broadway's biggest luminaries. And there have been fans (such fans!) who have written letters to the star that would make Juliet Capulet blush.
But despite a leading turn as a replacement in the musical, WAITRESS, Betsy Wolfe has yet to have the kind of break out Broadway role that might catapult her into the pantheon of musical theatre greats. A rumored turn as the Disney heroine Elsa in the Broadway iteration of FROZEN disappeared when the musical changed directors in pre-production, and an announced role in the revival of CAROUSEL ended up going to Lindsay Mendez (ironically, Wolfe's mirror in the musical EVERYDAY RAPTURE) who won a Tony Award for it.
That elusive timing that lays the way for stardom is never tangible. But watching Wolfe take the Feinstein's / 54 Stage; laid back and at the peak of her powers, you can't help but think the moment for this prodigiously gifted singer and actress has finally landed.
Blessed with a pretty face, made beautiful by the complete transparency of emotion that flows ever constantly through it, and a champagne flavored voice of endless range and dexterity, Wolfe is the rare performer whose gifts of musicality and interpretation are equally superb. With a deliciously curated persona that recalls the confident, vixen meets girl-next-door sexiness of mid-century sirens like Julie London (or perhaps more on the target) Ann-Margret, Wolfe projects effortless wit and the sly, self deprecating humor of a house-hold name sure of their place in the orbit (a coltish opening number, "Please Like Me" by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez is, of course, an unnecessary request.)
In a set including material by Sara Bareilles, Jason Robert Brown, Richard Rodgers (a luminous "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered") and Stephen Sondheim (a medley from INTO THE WOODS, which Wolfe feels contains 'all needed life lessons,' also proves there isn't a part in the show she couldn't handle persuasively in full production - though, my personal vote goes for the role of the Witch) Wolfe's vocals are supple and phrasing expert throughout.
Synced with musical director, Andrew Resnick and a symbiotic trio of musicians, in Wolfe's care the unfamiliar ("You, the Mountain, and Me" by Will Van Dyke, dedicated to the late theatre artist, Roger Rees) and the unexpected (a soulful "People Get Ready" by Curtis Mayfield) are equally rewarding, and in a shared moment with ANASTASIA star, Christy Altomare (in bluesy good voice) the classic "Happy Days are Here Again," a joyful duet of mutual admiration.
Given the range and versatility of Wolfe's gifts, it's hard not to imagine (with great respect to the musical theatre stars who recently played them) what Betsy Wolfe couldn't do with a chance at a role like Lilli Vanessi in KISS ME KATE, Eliza Doolitle in MY FAIR LADY, or even Bobbie, the now leading lady of female empowerment in the upcoming gender swapped COMPANY. Perhaps, like an earthy Greenroom-Goddess of the heavens, she has simply been waiting and biding her time (come to think of it, ONE TOUCH OF VENUS might make an inspired doppelganger-esque vehicle).
And indeed, Betsy Wolfe, here seemingly relaxed and patiently comfortable - not waiting in the wings of course, but lustrous center stage (or perhaps I should say on a kind of pedestal) seems ready and prepared for that moment to be now.
In a casual moment (perhaps the evening's sole misstep) Betsy Wolfe reads from her childhood journal; an attempt to remind us she's, after all, just like you and I and only human. But in truth, of course, she's not. Gifts like hers are ineffable, and the rest of us more than happy to simply worship at the shrine.
BETSY WOLF at Feinstein's / 54 Below. October 4-5, 2019
Follow Betsy Wolfe: @betsywolfe /@bwolfepack