BWW Review: Eden Espinosa Turns The Green Room 42 into Paradise with UNPLUGGED AND UNPLANNED
When Eden Espinosa's name was announced Sunday night and there was no pianist on the stage of The Green Room 42, it became clear that her show UNPLUGGED AND UNPLANNED was really staying true to the title. For a woman who has played Broadway but who also sings rock and roll to be appearing with just guitar/percussion and no piano is a clear indicator that fans aren't going to be getting "Defying Gravity" and "I'm Breaking Down" in the setlist for the evening. Indeed, when Ms. Espinosa does land on the stage it is to a hard-driving rock song called "Easy" from her latest album, and it is exactly the right way for her to start the show because the song has a great hook to it, and Espinosa's voice hooks you: Damn, man, the woman can sing. Like, OMG sing, the kind of singing that makes a person shake their head while wondering if they heard that right, or if they've gone to sleep and are dreaming of the most freakishly powerful, expressive, melodic voice they've ever heard - and that's just the first number in the show.
Yeah, Eden Espinosa is definitely unplugged.
But what's the unplanned part of the title?
UNPLUGGED AND UNPLANNED is the name of Eden Espinosa's month-long residency at The Green Room 42 and, as she explains while chatting up her audience, every performance will be completely different from the others, with a new setlist and a change of musicians, and all the excitement and nerves that come with doing a show in which some of the charts are handed out during the technical rehearsal. In a moment of absolute honesty, Espinosa confesses that nerves have become an issue with her in recent years, especially regarding live performances, and one of the reasons for going unplugged and unplanned is because "I wanted to be challenged" and that, during each show, her intent is to be "candid and honest," noting that she loves a "very interactive audience." During an evening casual enough to feel like a show at the Rockwood Music Hall rather than a cabaret theater setting, Espinosa certainly lives up to her personal goals, challenging herself with an on-the-spot game involving audience requests for the show tunes of their choice, and remaining completely candid and honest in her non-stop interactions with the crowd. It is an evening as refreshing and exciting as the lady hosting and performing, and even though there is a strong chance that, as the month wears on, Ms. Espinosa will get a greater sense of what is and isn't working within this relaxed format, it is obvious that the spontaneity that makes the evening so special isn't going anywhere because that is the essence of who Eden Espinosa is.
A true dichotomy, Ms. Espinosa is able to wail rock and roll one moment and then blare Broadway the next, giving audience members reason to ask themselves if she has had her lungs and vocal cords insured by Lloyd's of London because Eden Espinosa appears to be in possession of something either inhuman or superhuman or supernatural that will blow the minds of listeners; and just when you think you are, actually, hearing something from another world, she openly confesses that the song she has just sung really took it out of her and that her larynx needs some TLC. So she IS human! Actually, the humanity of Espinosa never comes into question, as the real-live-girl cum diva-goddess shares everything with the audience, like how "Another Life" from The Bridges of Madison County has, previously, been a mountain too great for her to attempt, or that she occasionally feels small, which is a pattern she is trying to break. She admits that, with two or three of the newer songs, "there IS going to be an iPad usage... I don't normally LOVE it..." but it becomes necessary when doing completely new material. The evening being Unplugged, this writer who also doesn't love iPad usage during a show happily forgives this open-hearted artist of the highest order, not just because she uses the device so infrequently that she could have just skipped mentioning it, but because she DOES mention it, letting the audience into her personal experience as a singer nervous about doing well. It is obvious that Espinosa invests all of herself in giving the best show she can, as authentically as she can.
In this impressively underrehearsed evening (more than once Eden mentions musicians getting their charts on the day, none of which was apparent) Espinosa and company (Senfu Stoney on drums, Jordan Peters on guitar and guest artists Max Grossman and Levi Kreiss on piano) make music magical enough to cast a spell over a room of people besotted by the lady with the microphone, but it isn't just the music that is magic, it's Eden Espinosa herself. Confessing that she is "such a nerd," Espinosa proves it by pulling faces and acting silly, telling truths, winning hearts she already has in her hand, displaying a natural sense of humor that would lend itself easily to a stand-up comedy set at Caroline's, and using acting abilities that change, instantaneously, from vulnerable to powerful in a way that only a woman can understand, because while she is on that stage Eden Espinosa represents all the facets of being female and all the aspects of being an artist. A more appropriate title to the show might be Eden Espinosa: Raw, Unplugged and Unplanned because that's what Espinosa resembles up on the stage - a raw, exposed nerve, unapologetically real, totally honest, and determined to show her truth, making exciting Eden Espinosa one of the must-see-do-not-miss acts currently running on the cabaret/concert stages of New York City.
"What matters first is that I have something to share."
On her social media platforms, Eden Espinosa has a contest leading up to each show in which tickets are given away.
Below: Eden Espinosa with Senfu Stoney on drums and Jordan Peters on guitar
Eden Espinosa with guest artist Max Grossman
Photos by Stephen Mosher