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BWW Review: HALEY SWINDAL: BACK IN BUSINESS Is How It's Done at 54 Below

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Haley Swindal Celebrates Her Return to 54 Below

BWW Review: HALEY SWINDAL: BACK IN BUSINESS Is How It's Done at 54 Below

A really great entertainer can turn your day around. I'll start with a confession. Yesterday I was having a really irritating day. Nothing tragic, but one of those days when nothing goes according to plan and every appointment is about 10 minutes behind schedule and the MTA is making things difficult. My mood by the time I arrived at 54 Below was, how shall I say, less than sunny. Thankfully the performer I had come to see was Haley Swindal, and her show BACK IN BUSINESS was exactly the tonic I needed to remove the dark clouds and bring back the sun.

Haley Swindal (Chicago, Jekyll & Hyde, White Christmas) is a performer in the old sense, the kind who would have been right at home in the age of television variety shows. Her engaging personality is big, but not intimidating. She commands attention without being consciously flashy about it. She has what used to be called in the old days "stage presence." Before the pandemic, she impressed Broadway audiences as one of the youngest women to play Matron Mama Morton in Chicago. She definitely has some of the swagger and chutzpah of that "Countess of the Clink." But underneath it lies a sensitive, nurturing, sexy woman who is completely comfortable downstage center. In short, Haley Swindal is the life of the party.

And the party she throws is pretty awesome. Her show is a celebration of the return of hope and fun and good times. In fact, her first two numbers feature the phrase "Let the good times roll" in the lyrics. She opened with Sondheim's "Back in Business" from Dick Tracy dressed in head-to-toe sequin pinstripes. It was as smart an opening as I've seen in a long time. She followed this up with "Let the Good Times Roll" with some additional lyrics by director, Barry Kleinbort tailored to the present situation. She took a moment to gently welcome her audience with Bob Dylan's gentle "Make You Feel My Love." She put a spin on Mama Morton with new lyrics to "When You're Good to Mama" sung from her point of view as a mother dealing with a child in quarantine in Ocala, Florida.

BWW Review: HALEY SWINDAL: BACK IN BUSINESS Is How It's Done at 54 Below

Haley Swindal knows her musical theatre. She proved that by choosing two deliciously obscure songs, "I'm in a Tree" from the musical Prettybelle which closed out of town and "Come Down from the Tree" which was originally cut from the score of Once on This Island. She is particularly good at this sort of introspective musical monologue. She gave us Peggy Lee's great "I Love Being Here with You" and two great moments for Jekyll & Hyde with "A New Life" and "Someone Like You". My favorite moment of her concert was a great arrangement of "I Won't Send Roses" combined with "I Have Dreamed."

She gave a great performance of Sara Bareilles' "Gravity" and of Burt Bacharach's "Knowing When to Leave." She gave us a wonderfully stylized version of "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries" which she matched up with "When You're Smiling." I was especially fond of her reading of Nancy Ford and Gretchen Cryer's "Old Friend."

She used a story about her very famous grandfather producing the musical Seesaw to talk about her new venture as a fledgling producer herself. She sang the big hit from that show, one the best of all production numbers, "It's Not Where You Start, It's Where You Finish." She wrapped up her concert with a very moving performance of Frank Wildhorn's "Finding Wonderland." It was really quite remarkable.

Haley Swindal had some first-class support on stage with her. Chicago music director, Scott Cady provided the wonderful and inventive arrangements and tickled the ivories with great panache. Dick Sarpola on bass and Dan Gross on drums rounded out the best band any performer could ask for. They all sounded amazing on Ms. Swindal's encore, "You and I," Leslie Bricusse's beautiful tune from Goodbye, Mr. Chips. It was the wonderful cherry on top of this delightful sundae of a show. Kudos to all involved. Thanks for turning my day around.

BWW Review: HALEY SWINDAL: BACK IN BUSINESS Is How It's Done at 54 Below

To learn more about Haley Swindal follow her @haleyswindah on Instagram or @swindah on Twitter. For more terrific acts at 54 below, visit 54below.com.


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