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Review: Dorian Woodruff Returns Triumphantly to Pangea With STUDIO MUSICIAN: THE MUSIC OF MANILOW

A great tribute show to a great musician also pays tribute to the art of cabaret and the audiences who love it.

Review: Dorian Woodruff Returns Triumphantly to Pangea With STUDIO MUSICIAN: THE MUSIC OF MANILOW

Last night there was a gathering of cabaret community luminaries. Sue Matsuki, Kati Neiheisel and Ann Talman could be seen sharing food and drink at one table, while Joanne Halev, Rian Keating and Susan Mack shared a laugh at another. Linda Kahn and her husband Robert cuddled over a salad at their table and Diane D'Angelo and Jamie Salzano huddled over a story at theirs. Carolyn German, in town for her own run of shows, beamed with pride for her old friend. Everywhere you looked, you could see an artist of note from the cabaret industry. It wasn't a meeting to discuss the 2022 Bistro or MAC awards, and the Cabaret Convention just happened a couple of weeks ago. It wasn't even one of Sue Matsuki and Gregory Toroian's Jazz Brunches. All these notables from within the industry gathered together in appreciative support to see the new Dorian Woodruff show, his first in three years.

Review: Dorian Woodruff Returns Triumphantly to Pangea With STUDIO MUSICIAN: THE MUSIC OF MANILOW

Review: Dorian Woodruff Returns Triumphantly to Pangea With STUDIO MUSICIAN: THE MUSIC OF MANILOW A cabaret singer and man of high regard - hence the Who's Who of Cabaret that made up his audience - Mr. Woodruff does not rush to create a new show, a fact made patently clear by the detailed (and almost intimidatingly dense) script of STUDIO MUSICIAN: THE MUSIC OF MANILOW. Not every club performer would have the gumption to take on so meticulous a script full of stories for their tribute show, but Mr. Woodruff is not just every club performer. In the first place, he is one of the most fashionably elegant men in the business - it is hard to believe that most men could stand in front of a room full of people for seventy minutes dressed in brocade and velvet without breaking a sweat. Dorian Woodruff? No sweat. Literally. Secondly, Mr. Woodruff has a long history as a musician, one that informs his approach to the material, and he may, well, have found his ultimate musical marriage in the person of Musical Director Gregory Toroian, whose arrangements for this evening manage to satisfy almost every need that could be required from the audience, from Mr. Manilow's cannon, and from Mr. Woodruff's impeccable musical vocabulary. And finally, there is the performance itself.

Review: Dorian Woodruff Returns Triumphantly to Pangea With STUDIO MUSICIAN: THE MUSIC OF MANILOW

Review: Dorian Woodruff Returns Triumphantly to Pangea With STUDIO MUSICIAN: THE MUSIC OF MANILOW Woodruff makes no bones about the fact that he is a balladeer. Like Manilow himself, Dorian loves (as he says in the show) an epic ballad. He warns the audience, right out of the gate, that the program is ballad-heavy, which can be death to a cabaret show... but not when it's done right. As a man obsessed with storytelling through ballads, Woodruff (assisted by longtime director Lina Koutrakos) knows precisely when to drop in the occasional up-tempo, and where to raise the audience's collective heart rate with a humorous story. He also knows how to curate the ballads and space them out so that there are minimal occurrences of back-to-back emotionally-draining songs. If one ballad is a little sad, the next one is a bit romantic, if one ballad dives deep into the heart, the next one is a parody of a famous up-tempo - it is a spectacularly significant orchestration of the running order, designed to keep the audience in his corner, the entire evening.

It is difficult, though, to not be in Woodruff's corner, especially when he raises his voice in song.

Review: Dorian Woodruff Returns Triumphantly to Pangea With STUDIO MUSICIAN: THE MUSIC OF MANILOW

Review: Dorian Woodruff Returns Triumphantly to Pangea With STUDIO MUSICIAN: THE MUSIC OF MANILOW Mr. Woodruff has the great good fortune to have been born with one of the most attractive, most pleasing voices in the music business. There are times when you sit in a club and watch a performer and are electrified by their storytelling... but you wouldn't go home and listen to an album of their singing. Dorian Woodruff is not that singer: it is a pleasure to listen to him sing. The tonal quality of his voice is so smooth as to conjure up the texture of fine fabrics, of the hair of a bichon frise, the feel of sand and ocean beneath bare feet, or (in the experience of this writer) a cup of Harney & Sons Vanilla Camora tea with a drop of honey and a splash of coconut milk. Here is a voice so smooth that to listen to that it makes you sigh; add to that Woodruff's intricate technique and you have storytelling that is beyond compare. Although Woodruff has declared himself to be a singer rather than an actor, what he gives the audience in every story he tells is acting informed by instinct, by his Koutrakos-encouraged explorations into the lyrics, and by the emotional connections he makes with the words and ideas. The storytelling does not, though, stop there because, while using the interpretive skills provided by facial and verbal expressiveness, Dorian works through the story with unblemished vocal training, placing a phrase of urgency up against the hard palate and then pulling it back into the soft palate for a more tender sound, whispering a word, bellowing a phrase, eventually going full-opera with sounds that resonate so richly in the deepest recesses of his instrument as to negate the need for a microphone, a tool that Woodruff expertly kept so far from his face at all times that it became clear that, in the intimacy of this room, the mic was thoroughly unnecessary. Woodruff's entire program is a lesson on how a singer can use all the parts of their training, both singing and acting, to tell a story, all of it effective and admirable, though there is one thing that this writer would like to see Woodruff, Koutrakos and Toroian to work on before the upcoming three performances occur.

Review: Dorian Woodruff Returns Triumphantly to Pangea With STUDIO MUSICIAN: THE MUSIC OF MANILOW

Review: Dorian Woodruff Returns Triumphantly to Pangea With STUDIO MUSICIAN: THE MUSIC OF MANILOW During the spoken portions of the evening, Dorian rides a fine line between the respectful and ardent discussion of Barry Manilow factoids, and the revealing of what Manilow's work has meant to him, personally, with the former presenting as reverential and the latter as spontaneous, at times silly, giddy, even saucy. It is during these more audacious moments of personal confession that Dorian is at his most adorable, when the audience feels the closest bond to him. Then, returning to the musical monologuing, Woodruff showed a tendency, last night, to lean a little too heavily on the horizon line of the back wall of the club. Many singers use that back wall for their storytelling but in an intimate room like the one at Pangea, during a tribute show so personal that it spans to the performer's childhood, the use of that space just four feet over the heads of the gallery becomes a barrier between the actor and the audience. It would be more effective if Mr. Woodruff would choose a few songs during which he could stay with us (not, obviously, the theatrical numbers that really focus on painting a picture like "Some Good Things Never Last" and the afore-mentioned parody arrangement of Manilows' biggest hit), songs like the exquisitely performed "Even Now" and the evening's highlight, "Can't Teach My Old Heart New Tricks/When October Goes", which had the whole room either sighing or crying. Were Team Woodruff to bring that musical connection down to eye-level for a few numbers, the entire show would have the same connective tissue from the stage to the tables that was present when Dorian dropped everything to joke about how hard it is for him to sing fast songs, right after an impressive, eye-popping "Jump Shout Boogie" that took everyone's breath away, including his own. It's a small adjustment that the formidable trio could make that would turn an already noteworthy show into one of the highlights of this cabaret season.

Dorian Woodruff STUDIO MUSICIAN: THE MUSIC OF MANILOW plays Pangea on November 12, December 10th and December 17th. For information and tickets visit the Pangea website HERE.

Dorian Woodruff gets a five out of five microphones rating for performing his entire show without the use of a lyric sheet, tablet, or music stand.

Review: Dorian Woodruff Returns Triumphantly to Pangea With STUDIO MUSICIAN: THE MUSIC OF MANILOW

Review: Dorian Woodruff Returns Triumphantly to Pangea With STUDIO MUSICIAN: THE MUSIC OF MANILOW

Review: Dorian Woodruff Returns Triumphantly to Pangea With STUDIO MUSICIAN: THE MUSIC OF MANILOW

Review: Dorian Woodruff Returns Triumphantly to Pangea With STUDIO MUSICIAN: THE MUSIC OF MANILOW

Review: Dorian Woodruff Returns Triumphantly to Pangea With STUDIO MUSICIAN: THE MUSIC OF MANILOW Review: Dorian Woodruff Returns Triumphantly to Pangea With STUDIO MUSICIAN: THE MUSIC OF MANILOW

Photos by Stephen Mosher



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