BWW Review: Lisa Viggiano Brings The Sunshine To The Beach Cafe
Lisa Viggiano's children are all growing up. Her oldest son is now 18 and heading off to college. Her youngest son just turned 13. And in 2020 her cabaret career will turn 20. Twenty years ago, Lisa Viggiano stepped nervously, cautiously, excitedly and joyfully onto a nightclub stage and sang out, and it has been two decades of adventure for her and for the cabaret community. It is very important to celebrate your milestones, though one wonders if it isn't rather difficult to celebrate the day your child leaves home and goes to college, or even more difficult to find a reason to celebrate the introduction of a teenager into the home... but having a successful career in the arts -- there is no bad time to celebrate that.
And celebrate is exactly what Lisa and the sold-out house at The Beach Cafe did last night.
To give away a trade secret - the show that Lisa Viggiano was meant to do last night was her 2019 smash hit FROM LADY DAY TO THE BOSS, but it was determined that her musical director, Tracy Stark, would be unavailable on January 4th. From Lady Day To The Boss being a complex show requiring much rehearsal, Viggiano knew it would be impossible to find enough time, at the height of the holiday season, to rehearse with a new musical director. So she did what all artists do to cross the finish line: she cut her suit to fit her cloth. She adapted. Lisa Viggiano called the magnificent and oh-so-quick-on-his-feet Yas Fukuoka and she created a brand new show, just weeks before her engagement. The material isn't new to her because every song she sang last night is a song she has sung before. This show was her celebration of two decades of standing in the spotlight, and it featured some of her favorite songs from her shows over 20 years, with a three-song set dedicated to From Lady Day To The Boss; and in between songs, Lisa V. entertained with stories about her life off the stage and on, the songs, the songwriters, and a little bit of wishing for a world from the past that, if lucky, we might be able to reclaim a little bit of.
It isn't every singer who can put together a set that runs the gamut from Jerome Kern to Bob Dylan, but Lisa Viggiano can. A frustrated rock singer, Viggiano has made it her mission to combine the musical theater that she grew up with (Hello, Andrew Lloyd Webber) with the rock stars she idolizes, like Jimmy Webb, and damned if she doesn't succeed. And she does it without changes to the style and content of her vocals. Ms. Viggiano has no need to transition from a Broadway belt to a Cabaret croon and then to a rock and roll rasp. Wise is the choice she makes when she opts to stay, quite entirely, true to who she is and to the art she presents - and that is why it works. It is patently apparent that Lisa Viggiano sits down with each song she is singing and breaks it down in preparation for the performance. Like an actor performing an evening of monologues, she brings a new story, a different intent, a fresh outlook to each number, and she does it with the voice that is most uniquely hers, not to mention a pair of eyes that, alone, are capable of communicating every word, every note, every nuance of the song. It is ironic that "With One Look" Lisa Viggiano is able to convey her stories because one of the most splendid moments in her evening was a most original and heartfelt (albeit sadly truncated) "As If We Never Said Goodbye." In every moment of the show, her twenty-year history of musical storytelling shows, but not in that cynical, jaded way that comes across when one has stayed too long at the party. Ms. Viggiano's craftswomanship is as fresh today as it was (this writer imagines) when she started - this rose is not withering on the vine but is, rather, flourishing and bringing a beautiful and fragrant air to any room where she is able to make audiences smile ... and smile they did, and they will.
With a clear and sweet soprano voice, Ms. Viggiano masters some lower tones that bring color to the performances, and high notes that sometimes hint at a vulnerability reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn singing Moon River, a cupful of emotion that is perilously close to running over, but controlled enough to remain contained. In contrast, when it is time to go big or go home, Viggiano opts for the big, with enormous, powerful notes that necessitate that she simply hold the microphone to one side of her elegantly coutured body. It is an impressive instrument, one that the audiences love; but what they love more is the entire Viggiano package. During moments when Lisa Viggiano was reminiscing with the crowd about her father's police work or her teenage cabaret hobby, it was as though the crowd were at a Mrs. Maisel comedy show; and when Mama V. spoke directly to her 13-year-old son after (impossibly) singing Maltby and Shire's "Stop Time" (without crying!) the audience grew misty-eyed and moony. And what could be more fun than hearing Lisa Viggiano sing the rather naughty (ok, it's downright dirty) "Kitchen Man" with her kid in the room, only to have her describe his reaction upon hearing her rehearse the song at home while doing the dishes? The songs of the evening were super but the songstress was superlative and SHE is the one people have been going to see, lo, these twenty years, as they will for the next twenty or so.
Mr. Fukuoka acquitted himself quite nicely as maestro, as he always does, and though Lisa admitted openly that she had employed no director for this show, anyone with a trained eye could see the influences of Tanya Moberly in her onstage choices. Thanks to Fukuoka and Moberly's influences and her two decades of experience, Lisa was able to just get up on the stage and allow herself to go, with each musical monologue, to the emotional places required to tell the story, an intent achieved to startling emotional effect. One of the primary rules in the business, as Lisa clearly knows, is that you surround yourself with good talent that will make you look better.
Well, from where her audience sits, after twenty years Lisa Viggiano is lookin' pretty darn good.
Photos by Stephen Mosher