BWW Review: Another Take on SHANA FARR's Noel Coward/Cole Porter 'Concept' Show Proves It To Be More Than Award-Worthy

Article Pixel

In a two-reviews-in-one column critiquing shows from last March, my esteemed editor Stephen Hanks quoted the poet Robert Browning: "A man's reach should exceed his grasp. Or what's a heaven for?" Hanks pointed out that Browning's famous line is about setting goals, striving, and ambition, all of which are commendable desires. But, alas, in this particular review he felt the two singers in question "fell short." One of those singers was Shana Farr and the show she has been performing throughout the past year, In The Still of the Night: Music of Noel Coward and Cole Porter.

So here we are a year later, immersed in the revelry of the 2015 award season celebrating excellence in cabaret, and Farr's uniquely theatrical homage to Coward and Porter has recently won her the 2015 Bistro Award for "Outstanding Concept Show." In spite of my editor's previous reservations about this show, he was open to hearing another perspective-whether positive or negative-so off to the Laurie Beechman Theatre I ventured on the last day of February to find out for myself whether Shana's show was truly award-worthy. Sorry, oh editor of mine, but you might have missed the boat on this one.

Farr's ambitious "concept" for tackling songs of Cole and Sir Noel was to use the scripted text, words, poetry, and lyrics of these two great musical masters to create a spoken word/musical libretto of sorts (as opposed to personal patter), telling the travails of an emotionally obsessive woman in search of "true love." Followed by a single spotlight, Farr makes a dramatic entrance through the house--tastefully dressed in black modern evening wear suggestive of vintage elegance--while wistfully singing Cole Porter's "In The Still of the Night." She moves methodically through the darkened room as if making her way on a foggy night in search of a long lost love. This haunting visual image immediately supports the overall theme of the show that is pretty much stated in the second number, "Where Shall I Find Him?" (Coward, Sail Away, 1961) all the way through her fourth number "What Is This Thing Called Love" (Cole Porter, Wake Up and Dream, 1929).

Possessed with a full and resonant soprano voice that's perfectly suited for the Coward/Porter songbook, Farr's sound is absolutely "the top," as Mr. Porter might say. Considering the number of symphony orchestra's she's performed with it's little wonder Farr's voice and talent excel with this material as she shows sizable operatic and acting chops. Outstanding moments in the show that displayed the evolution of Farr's character were her smolderingly sexy "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" (Porter, Leave it to Me!, 1938-see video below); the frenetic "Beguine Medley" where the audience is first privy to a crack in the veneer of Farr's character; "Let's Not Talk About Love" (Porter, Let's Face It!, 1941) where Farr redefines the acting term "rapid rate of utterance" with her lightning bolt seething denouncement of Porter's 1940s society and politics, causing the audience to break into spontaneous applause; and, finally, the ultimate emotional melt down of angst and desperation as portrayed in "Love for Sale" (Porter, The New Yorkers, 1930). Suffice it to say, over the course of the evening, Farr runs the emotional gauntlet from A to Z.

Musically, Farr has surrounded herself with excellence. Musical Director Jon Weber has created brilliant arrangements that sound modern to the ear yet somehow remain true to the period. Throughout Farr's "monologues," Weber consistently underscores her patter with just the right sense of humor and panache, while Adam Fisher on cello, adds to the darker, more somber moments as Farr takes us on her tumultuous emotional journey of love. An added bonus, of course, is Weber's virtuosity on the piano. Whether he's transporting you to a hot sleazy jazz dive as in "Alice Is At It Again" or to a high society party in "Let's Not Talk About Love," Weber's playing is the anchor of the ship that serves this journey well.

Thinking again about my editor's previous review of this show, perhaps Shana Farr and company took his review and that Robert Browning line to heart and set new goals; reviewing their previous work, tightening the script, reworking some vocals, and adding more performance values, all in an effort to fine-tune and enhance this wonderfully creative show that not only deserved its Bistro Award, but is worthy of an Off-Broadway run. High concept, indeed.



Related Articles View More Cabaret Stories   Shows

From This Author Billie Roe

Billie Roe returned to the NYC Cabaret scene some 5 years ago after a long hiatus from having played most of the New York clubs (read more...)