BWW Review: Kate Baldwin Showcases Her Affinity for Pop Music in EXTRAORDINARY MACHINE at Feinstein's/54 Below
By all accounts, Kate Baldwin is pure Broadway Baby. Having made her Great White Way debut in the 2000 production of THE FULL MONTY, she went on to star in Broadway's THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, WONDERFUL TOWN, and the celebrated 2009 revival of FINIAN'S RAINBOW, banking a Tony nomination for the latter. She will also, thrillingly, return to the boards this spring, starring as Irene Molloy alongside Bette Midler in the overdue revival of HELLO, DOLLY!
And yet, in EXTRAORDINARY MACHINE, Baldwin's most recent string of concerts at Feinstein's/54 Below, audiences were in for nary a show tune amongst her versatile and surprising set. At the second of the four shows on October 27, Baldwin made clear her intent: not to elude her Broadway background but to highlight the other colors of her voice along with her own musical affinities.
The conceptual inspiration for the show, directed with ingenuity by Robbie Rozelle, was actually Baldwin's unyielding love for pop music. The show's moniker itself is the title of a Fiona Apple song, which Baldwin did, of course, perform. The tune, which toed the line between purely pop and modern jazz, exemplified one of the four, five, maybe even six pop-infused genres through which Baldwin traversed during the 70-minute show.
There were selections from artists who have defined generations of pop music, including a haunting take on Billy Joel's piano-driven "Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)," as well as a keen interpretation of "Every Day I Write the Book" by Elvis Costello, definitively showcasing Baldwin's comfort in singing traditional pop. But she didn't shy away from more contemporary pop, either. Selecting "Always You," a charmingly quirky tune by indie pop's current queen of charming quirk, Ingrid Michaelson, as well as Mika's "Happy Ending," Baldwin demonstrated her voice is not merely suited for throwbacks and can tactfully veer modern, as well.
Though the evening was primarily centered on pop, lest we forget Baldwin herself is a musical theatre anomaly, that rare diva whose belt is just as phenomenal as her soprano. At the show's onset, Baldwin explained that there would be no "Glocca Morra" in the set list (speaking to the fact she would not sing the well-known tune from FINIAN'S RAINBOW), nor would the show itself devote much time to the classics. However, the performance was not entirely devoid of Broadway standards and, unleashing that world class soprano, Baldwin gave audiences a special preview of her forthcoming gig, singing a poignantly yearning "Ribbons Down My Back" from DOLLY. She also paid homage to a previous show, MONTY's "Breeze Off the River," infused with a specific melancholy which once again allowed the softer aspects of her voice to bloom.
Whether providing Broadway caliber instrumentation or more modern accompaniment, the (rather large) band was on its mark through the set's entirety. Helmed by musical director Kris Kukul, also on piano, the musicians on the cozy stage included Greg Joseph (drums), Michael Aarons (guitar), Paul Frazier (bass), Andrew Nielson (cello), Erica Dicker (violin), and Entela Barci (viola).
The band's proficiency also applied to yet another dimension of Baldwin's multifaceted instrument, drawing from the realm of country and folk. Interpreting Loretta Lynn's cheeky "First City," Baldwin did not attempt to replicate Lynn's one-of-a-kind phrasing but did channel her same jovial pluck. The song paired wonderfully with "Small Town Heart," a wistful number from SONGBIRD, a new musical that debuted last year Off-Broadway in which Baldwin starred. The Americana score by Lauren Pritchard managed to wonderfully blend a traditionally non-Broadway genre with musical theatre structure (think HAMILTON and rap, BRIGHT STAR and bluegrass), and in revisiting the show's music, Baldwin, too, demonstrated her ability to emit pure authenticity in blending musical theatre with other musical forms.
That skill was also felt in what was a highlight of the evening, as Baldwin invited her onstage son from GIANT, Matt Doyle, to join her for a mashup of Rufus Wainwright's "Oh What a World" with "Wicked Little Town" from HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH. It isn't coincidental that the show-stopping number emerged via a song from HEDWIG--- a musical, yes, but a musical that draws so heavily from genre and influence outside of traditional theatre scores. You could say, in this mashup's success, was also an evident success as far as Baldwin's mission for this concert series as a whole. She may love pop music, but, in treading these many artists and songs which spanned all areas of the vast genre, Baldwin proved without question that pop music loves her right back.