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Review: FARAH ALVIN: B-SIDE Celebrates the '70s at The Green Room 42

Farah Alvin Brings Depth to the Me Generation

Review: FARAH ALVIN: B-SIDE Celebrates the '70s at The Green Room 42
photo credit: Helane Blumfield

I grew up in the 1970s. I owned platform shoes and Qiana shirts and was a proud member of the Me Generation. Even though I was too young to actually get into a discotheque, the music was the soundtrack of my awkward middle school years. I can tell you exactly where I was when I first heard songs by Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Heart, Crosby, Stills and Nash, David Bowie, The Bay City Rollers, and The Carpenters.

Farah Alvin (It Shoulda Been You, The Marvelous Wonderettes, Grease) took me straight back to those years last night at The Green Room 42, with her show, Farah Alvin: B-SIDE. It is a follow-up to her previous show, ON VINYL. For those of you too young to know, B-Sides were the songs on the flip side of the big hit records. But as Alvin points out, the title of her show is a bit of a misnomer. The songs she sings are really the hits, not the misses. Farah Alvin was born to sing the music of the '70s. She can rock out one minute and be totally introspective the next. She even dressed the part. She took the stage in a black, off-the-shoulder jumper that was so chic you would swear she had been freshly draped by Halston.

Ms. Alvin is that rarest of things: the rock and roll soprano. Singing "Conversation," she was more Joni Mitchell than Joni Mitchell. I thought she found depth in Aerosmith's "Dream On,'' which is usually just a vehicle for vocal showboating. She found the story in it and told it beautifully. She then did a complete 180 and nailed all the melancholy drama in "I'm Singing This Song For You" and "Superstar" by The Carpenters. She was particularly good on Diamante's "Crazy For You," Glenn Campbell's "Wichita Lineman," David Bowie's "Life on Mars?" and "Solitaire," again by the Carpenters. Ms. Alvin's gift is to bring well-crafted storytelling to these great pop tunes. She has an impressive quality of stillness in her performance, not cluttering it up with a lot of rock gesticulating. Instead, she finds the emotional core of the song and just lives in it.

She also found some genuine humor in a three-minute medley of 24 TV theme songs. She used a visual aid in the form of a flip chart that told us the name of the shows, and she even played the toy xylophone to cap off the end riff of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Credit for this great medley (and the rest of the wonderful arrangements) goes to Michael Holland, who served as Alvin's musical director, pianist, guitar player, foil, and backup singer. Director, Marc Tumminelli kept the show moving at a brisk and entertaining clip.

I'm not sure if Farah Alvin intended it, but her show is not only about the music of the '70s. It is also about all kinds of out-of-control love. The sort of obsessive passion that fueled the cynical Watergate decade. The music was theatrical. This makes it a perfect fit for Farah Alvin's considerable acting skills. She gives us a gallery of women struggling to make sense of love, infidelity, loneliness, ambivalence, and regret, while also trying to be nurturing and open. It's a very clever through-line to end the show with Crosby, Stills, and Nash's "Love the One You're With." It makes this more than a show about 70's music. Farah Alvin goes on a journey that leaves both herself and her audience changed. You can't ask more from a performer than that.

Farah Alvin: B-SIDE returns to The Green Room 42 June 11. For more information about Farah Alvin, go to farahalvin.com. To check out more great shows at The Green Room 42, check out greenfignyc.com.



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