BWW Review: Carole J. Bufford Slays in DECADENT STANDARDS at 54 Below
They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but I can tell you that I have, successfully, chosen books by their jackets, records by their sleeves, and movies by their posters. I have also picked cabaret performers based on their show art, both successfully and un. Several times I saw publicity photos for Carole J. Bufford shows and I thought: "She looks neat." "She looks fun." "She looks groovy." And even though I had never heard her sing before, knew nothing about her style or her act, I decided I wanted to see Carole J. Bufford live.
Seeing Carole J. Bufford live with no previous knowledge of her work is like channel changing, finding a movie that looks interesting, and in that movie discovering an actor with whom you become instantaneously besotted; after that, you log onto IMDB to learn more, there to discover they have made 40 movies and you've only seen one of them, and you must now play the catch up game.
Well, THIS writer is certainly going to catch up. If there is a Youtube video, it will be watched. If there is a cd, it will be heard. If there is a performance, it will be attended. This reaction from one night of Carole J. Bufford.
The idea behind Ms. Bufford's show DECADENT STANDARDS is an interesting one that Bufford explains at the start of the show. There are three facets to the word decadent for Ms. Bufford: 1. The evening showcases at least one song from every decade starting at 1900. 2. The songs are lush and plush and as decadent as wrapping up in a silk robe. 3. The songs represent decay and cultural and moral decline. As Carole J. was describing this mission statement, the audience began to bill and coo in agreement and in anticipation. All this Siren of Song had to do was take the stage, shimmy her way through her blaring "Bill Bailey" opening number, and tell the crowd what was in store and BAM! she had them in the palm of her hand. And that, frankly, is where we belong...and where we want to be.
Carole J. Bufford is a blazing flare of originality, a symbol of unmitigated individuality. While other performers learn their craft, learn their songs, stand and smile and sing, Ms. Bufford seems to burst forth from a volcanic place where unconventional innovation is born, as though a muse created by the gods. Nothing about her is like any part of anyone else you have ever seen: how else could she, so boldly, so perfectly embody the music of every decade from an entire century? How many singers can do the bop of "Some Kind of Wonderful" and the pop of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," the sweet of "The Very Thought of You" and the beat of "Who Did That To You"? The manner in which Ms. Bufford is able to adapt her singing styles to that of the various decades, and the styles of the various musical genres, to that of her voice is mind-boggling in that it becomes indistinguishable in which direction she is adapting that which is being adapted. It's as though someone put completely unknown sheet music in front of her and said "Sing" and she did. She may be paying homage to the music of the 1900s, the 1920s, the 1930s and upward to the 2010s, but what is really happening in this show is that the music is paying homage to her. It is obvious Carole J. Bufford can sing anything, and sing it well; and just when you think she can't surprise you further with hidden talents, she takes a song like "The Circle" and adds some acting. And that's when you stop breathing. No, really. During Scotto's song (with modern lyrics by Ebb), Carole J. Bufford lulled an entire room at 54 Below into absolute silence. Neither fork nor glass was raised to lips, anywhere in the room. Eyes may or may not have blinked. Breath was drawn, but as slowly and as quietly as a Von Trapp hiding behind a headstone. Until the light on her face was out at the end of "The Circle" nobody at 54 Below moved - it was a rare and magical moment in nightclub protocol.
And I won't even talk about what she does to "Every Breath You Take" -- it has to be seen to be believed. No spoilers here, though the genius behind this arrangement is musical director Ian Herman.
If it were only that Ms. Bufford's vocal ability accommodated the decades through which she traveled, that would be enough, but somehow she manages to reflect for the audience the modes of fashion, style, and behavior from the times, as well. Can she charleston? Yup. Does she boogie? Oh yeah. Does she wear eyeliner like a 70s supermodel? You bet. Does she wail like a 30s saloon singer? She does. Does she have the hairdo of a 60s starlet? For sure. Does she have the strength of a woman of 2019? Absolutely. Carole J. Bufford is the kind of woman and entertainer they were thinking of when they wrote the song "I'm Every Woman" (not a song she sang last night, but give her time). Add to all of this the fact that she is funny as a rubber crutch and you have all the components of a fully realized night on the town. Ms. Bufford spent the entire evening talking in a completely natural way (possibly without a script but who can tell, she's that good), giving the audience true glimpses of an impish, playful personality whilst sharing tidbits about the songs, the songwriters and what she loves about both, without once coming off as false, pretentious or boring - and in a music tribute through the years show, that can be a danger. Somehow I don't think anything is a danger to Carole J. Bufford. I believe that any threat of fear, trepidation, doubt or wonder facing Carole J.Bufford would be quickly and easily dispensed with one flutter of two long lashes, a wink of an eye, and the popping of a hip.
Thus is the force that is Hurricane Bufford - the grandest force of nature you will ever fall in love with on a cabaret stage.
Carole J. Bufford next appears at 54 Below on November 2 in COME TOGETHER. For information and tickets visit the 54 Below Website
Follow Carole J. Bufford on Instagram and Twitter @carolejbufford and at her Website
Photos By Stephen Mosher