BWW Review: Lauren Patten + Company Raise a Glass to P!nk with 54 SINGS Tribute
Throughout her career, above all else, P!nk has proven to be something of a power ballad machine.
That's why it's no surprise that, with the heightened emotion in the sound and lyrical content of much of her catalog, her music was such a natural fit for the theatrical performances of 54 SINGS P!NK at Feinstein's/54 Below.
Starting off slow and sly on August 19, the evening's host, Lauren Patten (JAGGED LITTLE PILL), fittingly got the party started---on a Sunday night, as she noted---with "Get The Party Started" (Linda Perry), with the ensemble slinking through the crowd to the stage after her as she kicked things into gear.
And they stayed in gear, too. The way Annie Golden (ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK) whipped in, it was like there was no show before her and no show after. Thrashing her head, she growled out an energetic rendition of "Just Like A Pill" (Dallas Austin/P!nk), giving off serious Heart vibes in the process.
Over the course of the evening, those aforementioned power ballads handed more than a few performers prime opportunities to belt, from singer-songwriter Morgan Reilly's spinning-plates-like control on "Sober" (P!nk/Kara DioGuardi/Danja/Marcella Araica) to Kristy Cates (WICKED) and Ben Roseberry's (THE LION KING) breakup battle on "Just Give Me A Reason" (P!nk/Nate Ruess/Jeff Bhasker).
Covering "Try," Celia Gooding (JAGGED LITTLE PILL) demonstrated how even the slightest of adjustments to a songs arrangement can make a world of difference. Lingering a bit longer on each word, she imbued new emotion into each phrase, not to mention reaching some remarkable vocal highs.
The performers were accompanied by musical director Luke Williams on piano, Meghan Rose on guitar, Yuka Tadano on bass, Joshua Roberts on drums, Kristine Kruta on cello, and Melissa Tong on violin.
As Erica Swindell (ONCE) took the stage, she welcomed the audience to "the singer-songwriter portion of the evening." Playing an acoustic guitar while Kruta played cello, her cover of "Fuckin' Perfect" (P!nk/Max Martin/Shellback) was folked up in the best way, making the bridge into a sort of country-rap detour that worked quite well.
And trust, among the many ballads, the night was sprinkled with plenty of of lighthearted moments, too. Having stepped in at the 11th hour to appear in the show, Ariana DeBose (SUMMER) understandably---and briefly---went up on the lyrics during "You Get My Love," which she'd warmed up for a Norah Jones feel. It was a funny, shared moment with the crowd as she stated simply, "I forgot the words." And it's never not a delight when Lesli Margherita (MATILDA) takes the stage, and her lighthearted, somewhat breathy take on "Beautiful Trauma" proved no exception.
Carly Ozard (MIDLER ON THE ROOF) was the ultimate party crasher, coming in hot with her take on "Raise Your Glass." Seemingly channeling old-school Kesha as much as P!nk, Ozard's performance was more than just a jolt of lightning in a night full of fabulous performers. She genuinely seemed to be having the best time, at one point tilting her head over the stage and deadpanning the "Why so serious?" lyric from the song to hilarious effect. Like the opening number, this also used the ensemble to great effect, with more singers joining her onstage rager as Ozard continued.
When she wasn't performing, Patten's hosting style was less full-scale emcee and more like an enthusiastic parent cheering on their child at a soccer game, a "YAS" here and a sarcastic "too bad we don't have any belters tonight" there from the sidelines. But even in her unobtrusive way, it was always just enough to remind the audience how charming she is.
The night also saw a poignant performance by Sawyer Garrity, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student, who started a healing-through-arts organization called SHINE after the Feb. 14 tragedy and co-wrote a song by the same name. At just 17 years old, Garrity more than held her own belting "Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken." Having a young activist singing lyrics like "There's not enough tape to shut this mouth / The stones you throw can make me bleed / But I won't stop until we're free" elevated what is already an incredibly powerful song.
It's also a testament to the themes that have always been key to P!nk's work---all the way back to "Just Like a Pill," at least---that it didn't seem incongruous to acknowledge that important work on a night dedicated to some dozen Top 40 hits, plus a few deeper cuts.
But it wasn't, not in the slightest. That's likely because, at its core, so much of P!nk's music is about two things: a refusal to shy away from pain and its origins, as well as resilience. And 54 SINGS P!NK managed to not only pay tribute to her songs, but to build upon the kind of work she's been doing for the past two decades, as well.
Troy Frisby is an entertainment writer and digital news producer based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @TroyFrisby.