BWW Review: Krysta Rodriguez at Feinstein's/54 Below
The following is a list of notes I actually wrote down in the small breaks amidst moments of uninterrupted heart eye emojis beaming from my seat at Feinstein's/54 Below to the stage, where Krysta Rodriguez was taking on the second night of her first solo show.
-"SHE IS *ACTING*!"
-"This is why people go to cabarets."
-"My mouth was wide open basically that whole time."
-"Oops, I cried again."
-"SHE'S SINGING Melissa Etheridge!!!"
-"Megara made me gay, but this made me gayer."
-"I guess I'm in love???"
And my personal favorite, which is written in some variation over and over, scrawled in handwriting I can barely decipher, even 18 hours later, because I was so reluctant to miss a second of what was happening in front of me that I couldn't be bothered to look down at what I was doing.
-"For someone who has never done this, it really seems like she invented the genre."
The solo show, which began on September 10th and continues nightly through September 14th, is an endlessly entertaining, hilarious, well-crafted evening that never just relies on juicy personal anecdotes nor biggest-hits Broadway belts to keep its audience invested. Not that those things aren't there. Somehow, the show is made of both, though it feels like it's not over-committed to either. The most compelling part of the evening is that in the context of the medium itself, its star is able to both encompass and elevate what it means to be performing on a cabaret stage. She's the reason shows like this exist, and shows like this exist so that people like her can shine. And she was the absolute shiniest.
She started the evening off with Good Kisser, an indie-rock ballad by Lake Street Dive, and let us know right off the top, with the song itself and with an intro that set the scene for a light-hearted, sincere night, that this show wouldn't be comprised of just the songs she "thought" she should sing. To let us know she wasn't bluffing, she launched into a medley of all of her most popular tunes, cheekily named the "Please Don't Leave After This Medley," which certainly amped up the audience of fans. But what made her most accessible in the early moments of the show was her pointed candidness, which was sometimes used to underscore a moment, sometimes used to explain a bit, and somehow always transcended the banter we're all used to on evenings like these. Nothing felt inauthentic, nothing was done simply in service of keeping the night moving along. It was natural, it was wholesome, and it was never not endearing to behold.
She told us, after her first song, that she'd waited so long to book her first solo show because she wanted to be sure she actually had something to say. She also confided that she'd been nervous it would become a situation where she'd throw a party that no one would show up to. The most interesting thing about her, I came to find as the evening progressed, was that at the very moment she was making statements like that, I was jotting down notes that describe her as the coolest person you've ever met at a friend's birthday party who you're too afraid to talk to but not because she's intimidating- because you're intimidated. Her theater-kid investment, scarily-sharp ideas, and pitch-perfect execution all coalesced to form the whole picture of who she was and what she had to say, which really, were the same thing: "Being up here just makes sense."
And though being up there alone would've been enough to sustain the audience for several more hours, she brought in some special guests to play alongside. Last night's included her longtime friends Megan McGinnis and Andy Mientus, both very charming to watch, and both playing not only to their individual strengths, but to the strengths of the genre. It was here I started to really panic about how good this show was, because it was here the moments an audience member longs for- the ones you watch all the while obsessively thinking about how you're ever going to be able to describe this to people when you think about it at least 4x/week for years to come- began to snatch every wig in the room, one by one, unapologetically.
As McGinnis came to the stage, Rodriguez told the story of their initial meeting and continued friendship, which reached a lovely climax when the two of them were on Broadway (McGinnis in Les Miz, and Rodrigues in A Chorus Line) not just at the same time, but in adjoining theaters. To honor their shared history, and within the geniusly curated framing device of "this is what someone might've heard had they stood in our shared alley," the two performed parallel/mashed-up versions of their characters most famous songs: On My Own and At The Ballet. This number was the perfect microcosm of the evening: not only were the context and the set-up absolutely brilliant, but the duet, in and of itself, was singular, breathtaking, exquisite, and all the other words that go through your head when you're watching something you never could've imagined in 1,000 years and now don't know how you had ever lived without.
Next, Mientus took the stage, and we were regaled with a similar story of their longtime friendship. For their first number, Mientus and Rodriguez performed St. Vincent's New York as a duet, and yes, I did cry. But the tears ceased immediately as the next bit slayed the room: we were given all-access passes to a years-long game the two have been playing, the only rule of which is to replace the word "love" in any song with the word "lube." I won't spoil more of the hijinx that ensue as the lyrical battle continues (Mientus is back onstage in the show Friday, September 13 and Saturday, September 14), but I will admit that by the end, I was certain and committed in my knowledge that I am in lube with Krysta Rodriguez.
The biggest, brightest, and arguably best moments of the evening came later, one when Rodriguez told us a story of an Evita audition note gone insane ("Play it like Beyoncé at Coachella!") with a lengthy and involved and flawless demonstration of what she would've done had she accepted the feedback. Another, a quieter and more (or, maybe, separately) empowering performance, followed in the form of a gorgeous mashup of 4 Non Blondes' What's Up and Bobby McFerrin's Don't Worry, Be Happy in an ode to and analysis of the complicated, too-big feelings she faced after she finished chemotherapy. In both, we were given access to her raw talent and power and the mind that is working through so much and the voice that gives agency to those thoughts. And in both, I felt unbelievably lucky that she had finally made the decision to do her solo show at the same time I am alive on this Earth.
Throughout the show, she made a point to openly discuss the workings of womanhood, specifically, as a woman who has dealt with a health crisis, a woman in the industry, a woman who is no longer a girl. And in each of her analyses, she seemed to always end on the conclusion that duality is the only way forward. Being grateful and angry is fine. Being feminine and a warrior is realistic. Being funny and honest is necessary. It's fine to be worried and happy, nervous and empowered, vulnerable and fierce, rock and Broadway. And she's not just saying it, though if she were, I'd still line up to buy a ticket, Hercules-lotto-style. She's living it. She's emoting it. She's belting it. She's creating meaningful narratives around it. She's sharing it. She is, on that stage in her first solo show after finally deciding she has something to say, is, in fact, not just saying something. She's kind of saying everything. And I lubed every word.