BWW Review: Leanne Borghesi and Marta Sanders Boa The Life into Birdland with SHOWBROADS
Remember when there were teams? Show business teams, not sports teams, although there are certainly plenty of those out there. There used to be duos that teamed up to entertain. Laurel and Hardy. Abbott and Costello. Hope and Crosby. Martin and Lewis. Notice anything? No women. For some unfathomable reason, the girl act wasn't really a thing unless it was a sister act, and the last duo sister act to really hit it big was The Dolly Sisters, who were popular in vaudeville a hundred years ago. That's it unless you count Lucy and Ethel, Mary and Rhoda and Laverne and Shirley. Of course, we did have Four Girls Four with Rosemary Clooney, Rose-Marie, Helen O'Connell, and Margaret Whiting - now that's what I'm talkin' about. And there were television specials with Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett, Pearl Bailey and Carol Channing, and Mary Martin and Ethel Merman, and everyone can agree that those are a treasured part of show business history.
But what about the duos we never got? Imagine an ongoing partnership between Ethel Merman and Karen Morrow? What if Kaye Ballard had teamed up with Kay Starr? Consider seeing Judy Garland and Elaine Stritch do a girl act? That's right, you'd be in show queen heaven.
Well, there's a new duo in town and they're on their way to paradise. Everyone needs to get a ticket, get on board, buckle in, and get ready for the ride of their lives.
The main room at Birdland was like a Broadway opening in an MGM musical Sunday night. With a long line reaching down 43rd street, the entire club was abuzz with people excited to see The Showbroads. Every seat was filled, including those at the bar, and where a spare square of floor space could be found, a person willing to stand for the show could also be found. Peering into the darkness of the room, mere minutes before the show started, one could see the likes of Robin Westle, Mark Nadler, Bryon Sommers, Nancy McGraw, Eugene Ebner, Richard Skipper, Michael Kirk Lane, Kenny Bell, Russ Wooley, and KT Sullivan. Everyone wanted to see The Showbroads debut.
But those who were not able to make it to the debut need only wait for the next round of shows. This one-night-only happening is destined for more, as it is destined for greatness because Marta Sanders and Leanne Borghesi, The Showbroads themselves, have created something really special with their partnership and with this show. They are filling a space in nightclub performing, in show business, and in the hearts of the people who will become fans of Showbroads, and of Borghesi and Sanders. It isn't that they are filling a hole in cabaret, because the art form and the community have plenty of duo shows being performed by talented and wonderful artists and people. Showbroads, though, is more than a duo show - it is a play, an extended sketch comedy worthy of the great Variety shows of the past and of our hearts. Showbroads is brilliantly conceived, authored and executed, thanks to the two Leading Ladies and writer Nathan Cann (sharing writing credit with Sanders and Borghesi), working alongside director Nicolas Minas and musical director Dana P. Rowe (whose orchestrations make the mouth water with astonished musical wonder), with a simple enough premise: a more seasoned Showbroad meets a younger performer in whom she sees the potential to be a Showbroad, and decides to light the way for the next generation -- after some push and pull over stage space, spotlight and boa time. Belly laughs and gasps ensue as the two women hold nothing back in their desire to entertain their audience and get as many feathers and spangles on their persons as is humanly possible. Sanders and Borghesi are a marvel as they not only own the stage, they fill the room. They fill the room with energy, with flair, and with death-defying vocals.
As a nightclub duet ... oops, I meant to say duel... the play Showbroads relies on the relationship between the two divas, and it is apparent that they have chemistry for days, but also that, under the surface of the act, the two actresses have a wealth of affection between them. When one is standing in the light, having a moment of her own, the other is to one side, watching with a loving and admiring gaze. Leanne and Marta look at one another as a best friend would, watching their friend shine. There are, by the way, plenty of solo moments when Marta and Leanne get to show off their individual talents, which are considerable. It has been said, by female singers, that a woman's voice can grow weaker with age, but Marta Sanders is most definitely presenting evidence to the contrary, with her gorgeous alto (at times even baritone) voice and soaring notes. Leanne Borghesi, on the other hand, will make your eyebrows jump when she transitions from her beautiful belt into the stratosphere of high notes, high notes you didn't know she had. Surprise! Both ladies are equipped with talent, both the kind with which one is born, and the kind that one learns, studies, and refines. The personalities? That, you're born with. And personality is where Borghesi and Sanders won the genetic lottery - both women are like a force of nature, making the outstanding comedy and breathtaking music in Showbroads something that needs to be seen to be believed. No mere photograph or video footage could adequately capture all this magic on one stage.
Skit by skit, note by note, the Showbroads top themselves. Not one another, their own selves. The show may be billed as "A Nightclub Duel" but the thrill for the audience is watching Sanders deliver some stellar Jerry Herman near the start of the show and work her way up to an ovation-inducing "She's a Star." Meanwhile, Borghesi's first solo shot in this nightclub act is a Streisand tune that grabs the audience, while her final solo performance is ... a Streisand song that leaves you slack-jawed and breathless. Herculean feats of epic performing - that's what you get when you get a ticket to see The Showbroads. And then, just when you think they've belted their way into the record books, Marta Sanders and Leanne Borghesi, sing so sweetly, with such tender harmonies, the most famous Joni Mitchell song of all time, to remind you that, under the glitz and glamor, a Showbroad is just a girl living her life and dreaming her dream. The choice to add this wistful moment into the show is a graceful one, adding the loveliest dusting of humanity onto a sumptuous feast of outrageousness.
These women, these Showbroads are that magical thing: performers who compliment each other and who inspire one another. They each bring many things to the table when they look to create, and what they get in return is their gift to the people who stood in line in the cold to see them - but it is also a gift to each other, and to themselves. Both women have been working at their craft with success, their individual careers making them cabaret artists in demand. Showbroads will be the show that puts them on the map, with clubs and theaters around the world offering them engagements, even cruise ships to take them around the world will be calling for The Showbroads. And when the world calls, The Showbroads should go because they are here to show everyone how the musical comedy nightclub act could, would, and should always be done.
Correction: In my enthusiasm to share my experience with The Showbroads, I posted this story with incomplete information. I neglected to give credit to all of the members of the exceptional Showbroads orchestra, and for that I am extremely sorry, for I honor these musicians for their talent and their commitment to excellence.
Music Direction and arrangements: Dana P. Rowe, Don Kelly on drums, Jim Piela on brass/winds and Jamie Mohamdein on bass.
And... BoaOgraphy and Movement Choreography by Pim Van Amerongen.
Thank you, musicians, for your glorious music, and Pim for your beautiful movement, and for forgiving my oversight.
The performance of Showbroads on November 17th was a preview of things to come. As soon as The Showbroads announce their next round of shows, Broadwayworld will bring you the news. In the meantime:
Photos by Stephen Mosher