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BWW Review: Nicole Spano LAUGH IT OFF Brings Quality Entertainment to MetropolitanZoom

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Broadway World Cabaret's new virtual cabaret and concert correspondent chose a good show for his debut.

BWW Review: Nicole Spano LAUGH IT OFF Brings Quality Entertainment to MetropolitanZoom Greetings, dear Broadway World Cabaret readers. As previously mentioned, we at BWW Cabaret have decided to continue covering the virtual club and concert work that made the pandemic, quarantine, and shut down bearable. To that end, we have taken on two writers tasked solely with watching online content and writing about it, to keep online audiences aware of what is out there, and to let the artists know that they are appreciated.

Today we are looking at a June 10th concert presented on MetropolitanZoom by Nicole Spano. The show, titled LAUGH IT OFF was directed by Lennie Watts and musical directed by Brian Walters. For the evening, we had Texas-based performer and writer Bernie Siben check out the action and his resulting review can be seen below. After today, look for Bernie's articles under his own byline and, at the end of this story, read a bit about Bernie himself.

Laugh It Off!
Nicole Spano with Brian Walters
June 10 at Metropolitanzoom.com

When any artist performs, even when the audience is virtual, part of their job is to fill the space. The space at MetropolitanZoom is intimate, very intimate. And, of course, intimate usually means "small." On Thursday evening, aided by Brian Walters at the keyboard, Ms. Spano not only filled the space-she enlarged it. As the show started, I was struck by the nearness of the walls to the pair, but by the end of their first number (New York Groove + Happy + Zoom) I was no longer aware of the size of the space or any limitations it might have (but didn't) impose on the performance.

At times, Spano sang alone, sometimes they sang together in harmony, sometimes he sang responses to her lines, sometimes Walters' piano "doodled" in the background while Spano talked. But I found their interaction to be absolutely seamless. And that's difficult when there's as much talking as singing, and especially when there are sometimes anecdotes between each and every verse of a song. It took me a moment to "get" the style and find that I enjoyed it. Especially since, as both a singer and accompanist, I know how much rehearsal it takes to be that seamless.

Ms. Spano and Mr. Walters were rehearsed and polished enough that each was always aware of what the other was doing and, more importantly, each was also attentive to what the other might do in response to the moment.

Some performers have difficulty when playing to an empty room. It's like ice skating without an audience. They execute a perfect triple axel or quad toe loop, and there's no reaction, no applause. But from the first moment, from her first words, I got the feeling that Ms. Spano understood that there was a live audience out beyond the camera, and she was playing to them, not to the lens. Of course, this is easier to manage with a Zoom show because you can "see" some of the audience and how they react to the material.

Some specifics:

I was surprised when the second song turned out to be Tom Lehrer's "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park." You don't often hear Lehrer's music included in a cabaret evening. "Pigeons" was combined with another funny piece called "Dog," which I had never heard before, but which made a satisfying medley with "Pigeons."

Next up was "Be Italian" from the musical "Nine." This is a favorite show of mine and a song very well suited to Ms. Spano's voice, temperament, and performance style. Her mid-range belting voice was like a symphony orchestra's trumpet section and her upper register had a wonderful clarity and suffered no loss of diction. In addition, the song had patter between the lines and stories between the verses, about her family more often than not. Some of the stories were funny, and some were sad, but Ms. Spano managed to keep things moving along with no discernible slowing of the show's overall pace.

Finally, toward the end, was "Sing Happy," a Kander & Ebb gem from "Flora the Red Menace." This song is a belter's dream. It requires belting in both the middle and upper registers, so many singers avoid it. On Thursday, showing no fear of the song, Ms. Spano tackled the song head-on and made it her own. She got out of it every possibility for "big singing" of a "big song" that Kander & Ebb wrote into the number, and did it with ease.

There was also a lot of specialty material-possibly written by Ms. Spano or Mr. Walters, or both, three in particular that I found quite funny, including first, a parody of "Children Will Listen" from "Into the Woods" which turned out to be about Siri and your cell phone; second, a parody of "Walkin' After Midnight," which was about bedbugs; and finally, "OCD," a song that harked back to a few early hits of The Supremes but touched on all the things people get OCD about, including setting the alarm clock, turning off the stove or oven, locking the car door(s), shutting off the iron, and locking the front door. This third one tickled me because I have been guilty of obsessing about all of these things at one time or another.

One technical problem marred the overall evening for this reviewer, but only slightly intermittent sound problems throughout the performance. The sound level would slowly go down to less than half its volume, and come back up a bit later on. This happened during three different songs and was just a bit distracting the first time it happened, but the music was still audible and the volume came back up pretty quickly each time.

The evening was presented as a fundraiser for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, a 501 charitable organization founded in 1949, and dedicated to fighting multiple kinds of blood cancer. Ms. Spano mentioned this at the start and at the end, and I hope the donations were huge given the quality of the performance.

Learn more about Nicole Spano at her website HERE.

Read about MetropolitanZoom at their website HERE.

Bernie Siben Bio:

Bernie Siben's mother always claimed that he memorized his first song when he was 3 years old. The song was called "Where is Your Heart?" and it was the theme from a 1952 film biography of the artist, Toulouse Lautrec. Yes, he was an odd child. Today, 68 years later, he still includes this song occasionally in his cabaret act.

Since 1975, he has been a professional singing actor, working at clubs and theatres in Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, West Palm Beach, and Visalia (a small city in California). His early cabaret repertoire was very broad, encompassing a variety of genres with songs dating back to 1926. As time went on, with other singers covering mostly the popular music of the day, R&B, and jazz, his performances narrowed almost exclusively to the Broadway repertoire, and his focus is now primarily on "story songs."

During his 45+ years as a cabaret performer, he has lived by the mantra, "if the song is not memorized, it's not ready to go onstage."


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