BWW Review: LESLIE OROFINO SHINE! Does Just That at Don't Tell Mama
The audience at last night's New York debut of Leslie Orofino's SHINE! didn't read the show description on the Don't Tell Mama calendar, that much was clear. Each time that Ms. Orofino said the name of the artist she was about to spotlight, the audience oohed and aahed, billed and cooed, excited by the prospect of hearing discussed (and musically represented) the lives and works of such beloved craftswomen. Observing their surprise and excitement at the mention of these names indicated something very telling: if they didn't know they were coming to see a show about Dorothy Fields, Peggy Lee, Alberta Hunter and Lady Gaga, they must have come for one reason, and one reason only: Leslie Orofino.
And Leslie Orofino is enough.
Speaking personally, this writer had never seen Ms. Orofino perform before, and with the option of four different shows to see, chose SHINE! because of Dorothy Fields, Peggy Lee, Alberta Hunter and Lady Gaga (I did read the show description), but got much more than he bargained for - a new diva to love.
Leslie Orofino is a cabaret singer. Indeed, Leslie Orofino represents what cabaret has always been about. An ever-evolving artform, cabaret is represented by music, burlesque, drag shows, magic shows, jazz players, comedy, duos, ventriloquists, poetry... you name it - and there are new kinds of acts coming up every year. When Leslie Orofino hits the stage in her red dress, a matching red boa draped across the piano, it's like stepping back in time to the days of Kay Starr, Polly Bergen and Julie London, the classic days of cabaret clubs, nightclub singers and sassy, brassy broads with sex appeal, like Barbara Stanwyck, Susan Hayward and Ginger Rogers. Leslie Orofino doesn't just keep the spirit of the old days of cabaret alive, though, she brings it with her into the present by including in her night of tribute the diva of today. After all, that's not an anticipated leap, from Dorothy Fields to Lady Gaga, but Ms. Orofino makes the leap and she makes it work.
The idea behind SHINE! is a simple one: Ms. Orofino spends her 70 minutes on stage looking at the lives and artistry of four women who were not willing to allow roadblocks and rejection stand in their way, women who rose to the top of their game in spite of the obstacles that arose. Everyone has obstacles, after all, but what set these four women apart was their grit and determination, making them role models for anyone with a dream, as well as grit and determination; and Leslie Orofino uses her considerable gifts as a performer to get their stories out in record time (four women in 70 minutes -- impossible!) and every moment of SHINE! is one to be enjoyed.
Using anywhere from four to six songs per woman, as well as facts, tidbits and trivia that is both impressively researched and blissfully concise, Ms. Orofino glides through the evening with sass and aplomb, knowing exactly when to look her audience in the eye and when to use the darkness as her effective scene partner. Her singing voice is full-bodied and rich, smooth and velvety, and if it sounds like I'm describing a wine, you're not far off - this voice is easily the audible equivalent of a Shiraz or a Tempranillo. Making full use of the entire stage, Leslie plays to all sides of the room, ensuring every member of her audience feels seen and included in her evening that moves swiftly and entertainingly along; and while much credit is due her for this performance, it must be said that director Louis Pietig has guided her well on this journey, because this is one of the most polished shows this writer has seen. Of late I have witnessed numerous performers either forgetting their lyrics or reading them off of something (I prefer the former to the latter), to say nothing of an overabundance of logorrhea during their spoken portions of their show, but there was none of this from Leslie Orofino. The Lady knows what she wants to say and what her cues are, she does not speak extemporaneously - she works from an excellent script and, even though polished and rehearsed, every word spoken seems natural and in the moment, not false or prepared. This is no amateur hour - Leslie Orofino is a professional, doing work that pays respect to her audience and her onstage colleagues, the extraordinarily gifted Kenneth Gartman (MD and piano) and Boots Maleson (bass).
Oftentimes I have remarked that a good cabaret show should send you home knowing the artist more than you did when you walked in, and even though Leslie Orofino said not one thing about herself, her life, how she was changed by the work of these four women who Shine, when I went home I knew about Leslie Orofino -- maybe not all about her, but I knew enough. I knew about her because of the women she chose to showcase, because of the songs she opted to sing, because of the reverent way in which she spoke of their accomplishment, because of the mere creation of this show. What I learned is that Leslie Orofino is an artist, a professional, a classy, sassy, sexy, elegant mixture of Myrna Loy and Mae West with a penchant for strong women who do things their way. I learned that Leslie Orofino knows who she is and what she wants, and last night she wanted to entertain; and from the moment the lights came up to the moment she stepped off the stage, that is precisely what she did.
And then some.
Follow Leslie Orofino on Twitter @leslieorofino and Instagram @leslieorofinojp
To learn more about Leslie Orofino visit her Website