BWW Review: Barbara Bleier and Austin Pendleton Continue To Light Up the Stage, with BITS AND PIECES at Pangea
Pangea, NYC, January 7th, 2020
Barbara Bleier and Austin Pendleton performed a set together that seemed to insinuate the budding of a love affair, then eventually the dissipation of that affair, before a late-life rekindling of the flame. How much of that reflects real life is hard to say. They seemed more a pair of affable friends, but they certainly acted their pieces well. Most of these songs were performed as solos, although they started off with a duet. They switched off early and often and played well on each other's idiosyncrasies, even when it wasn't a duet.
Pendleton delivered his songs like the accomplished actor he is, a common characteristic in Pendleton's work historically: for example, he appeared to truly embody the "Taxi Song" by Harry Chapin. When he sang of picking an old flame up on the street, "Something about her was familiar," it felt both very nostalgic and ended with a shrewd acceptance of the fate of being a cab driver. Even better was his spicy half-spoken word, half-sung, "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face," on which he yelled and implored the audience to believe that he'd been a "most forgiving man."
Barbara Bleier matched Pendleton's intensity well, especially in an acting sense. On a spoken intro to "1000 Kisses Deep" by Leonard Cohen, one could practically feel the audience sucked in as if preparing for one collective gasp when she spoke out, "open like a lotus to the heat." And when she followed up this tender number with, "Am I Old Enough for a Younger Man," I think she had won over a strong contingent of the audience.
Also joining the duo was one of the writers of their songs. After they performed a duet of "What if We Loved Like That?" and director, Barbara Maier Gustern, performed, "Autumn," both songs by Maltby and Shire, Richard Maltby joined them on stage to sing his original "There." He was solid, though I liked is later performance of another one of his originals "If I sing" even better.
The show ended on a positive note with strong duets of "Old Love," "Hallelujah," and "Our Time." It was strange to think "what must Sondheim think of" when he hears his lyrics, "We're what's new...Worlds to change; Worlds to win." It seems fitting that Pendleton and Bleier would perform an optimistic closing number as their show was filled with tunes that highlighted the hopefulness of life. With that in mind, it's likely that you'll see this duo again.