BWW Review: SHOSHANA BEAN Brings Star Power to 54 Below
This week Shoshana Bean opened a nightclub act so sensational that it may well be one of the best cabaret shows New York has ever seen. For her Feinstein's/54 Below debut show, Ms. Bean took the stage, resplendent in a black and white one-shouldered gown with a thigh-high split, her lustrous hair swept back into a ponytail, exposing her movie star pretty face and mere diamonds dangling from her ears, and stood, waiting, as the packed to the rafters room ovated her for simply being in a room with them. She waited until they quieted down, and then waited some more, not afraid to take her time, looking at a sea of faces that, clearly, adored her. She opened her mouth to sing, and what followed was seventy minutes of absolute magic.
Shoshana Bean has sung show music all her life, but for several years her focus has been on music labeled R&B, Blues, Jazz. Then she returned to Broadway to play the titular role in Waitress, and with that came her decision to do a night of Broadway - songs she has sung, songs she'd like to sing, songs she will never get to sing on Broadway. This can be a tricky venture for a cabaret artist because a show without a story can create a divide between the artist and their audience, becoming little more than a collection of songs the singer likes. This was not a problem for Shoshana Bean, for every song she sings is a story. Here is an artist with the ability to sing like one of those rock stars who specializes in vocal pyrotechnics sans emotion, but this artist also possesses a skill at embodying a song with all the character and narrative required to make her audience feel all the feels, and she will communicate with every feeling in your heart - nothing compromises the storytelling for her, ever. No matter what song Shoshana Bean is given to sing, she will sing it in a way even the songwriter never dreamed it could be sung, and she will tell the audience a story they never knew they needed so badly. She is one of those people that you watch and say "I'm glad this person is famous, for the world needs their gifts."
With an irrepressible personality that will not contained, Bean let loose on a suspecting audience with 12 songs, each of them, even the smallest, quietest song, a Herculean history to be revered and remembered - and in between numbers she connected with every human being in the room, chatting with guests one on one, celebrating many birthdays ("Happy Birthday to ALL OF YOU!" she sang), playing with her band members ("I feel like I'm right on top of you.. Do you want to cuddle?), and kvelling over the presence in the room of the legendary Donna Murphy. Ms. Bean discussed the joy of being back in NYC with humor ("NO spacial awareness in this city!"), the youthful Shoshana who "did not understand that I was not black" and the struggle of putting together a show that isn't just Sondheim or Jason Robert Brown ("This is an equal opportunity cabaret!"). Aside from being one of the great vocal talents of her time, Ms. Bean is a naturally funny person, so much so that she could do an hour of stand-up comedy if she so chose to do so and, thus, conquer yet another area of show business.
Throughout the evening Shoshana Bean moved her audience with treasured tunes that might make nervous some other singers, many of them with astonishing new arrangements. Among the highlights (a difficult distinction to make) were "It All Fades Away" from The Bridges of Madison County, during which she smiled continually and danced around the stage, "Don't Rain on My Parade", in which she did the impossible by stepping out of the Streisand shadow, and "It Means Beautiful" from the West End's Everybody's Talking About Jamie, not to mention an epic medley that defies description (worth the price of admission). For this writer, though, the evening was made perfect by Ms. Bean's now-famous inimitable version of "She Used to Be Mine" from Waitress, as well as what is probably the greatest and most original rendition ever of "Finishing the Hat" from Sunday in the Park with George.
In spite of the superiority of the show, it is in the most personal moments that the audience took Shoshana Bean into their hearts, there to stay forever. Stopping her act and stepping behind brilliant musical director James Sampliner's piano, Shoshana turned center stage over to her friends Travis and Curtis so that the former could make a stirring marriage proposal to the latter (spoiler alert, he said yes) before she sang, just for them, Scott Alan's "Home". As if that weren't enough overwhelming emotion, Shoshana next brought up her very best friend, Jenn Gambatese, for a tearful, loving, smiling "For Good", as the two sisters from another mister clung to one another, making everyone who has a true best friend make a mental note to call them as they walked home from the show.
Dedicating her final moments on stage to Marin Mazzie, Bean dug deep inside and brought out an impassioned "Back to Before" like none you have ever heard. Then, with one special, quiet, loving and yearning song more (no spoiler here, you have to go to the show to find out), Shoshana Bean stepped gently off the stage and disappeared behind a curtain, leaving her screaming audience of family, friends, and fans forever changed. For good.
Shoshana Bean plays 54 below through September 5th
Shoshana Bean by Stephen Mosher