BWW Review: Shani Hadjian FEAR.LESS Speaks Out at The Laurie Beechman Theatre

BWW Review: Shani Hadjian FEAR.LESS Speaks Out at The Laurie Beechman Theatre

The late, great Carrie Fisher once said: "Take your broken heart and make it into art". That is precisely what happened last night at The Laurie Beechman Theatre when Shani Hadjian took to the stage for a one-night-only performance with two purposes: to raise funds for The SOULE Foundation and to push herself out of her comfort zone in order to become more FEAR.LESS. It is uncertain whether or not Ms. Hadjian actually did change the degree of anxiety living inside of her, but from where we all sat, she appeared steadfast and strong, completely lacking in any trepidation, ready to conquer all of the things that give people jitters, from spiders to singing in public. Ms. Hadjian appeared to be that which most defines a hero: someone who is scared but charges forward anyway; and charge, she did.

Boy, howdy, did Shani charge.

Without fanfare, Ms. Hadjian stepped to the center mic and began the evening of sharing stories about the sh*tty things that happened to her during her young life - the events that mold the children of the world, the crises that many youths live through, for years carrying the baggage that is so difficult to either unpack or speak of. Shani spoke not only of her experiences, she did so in a way that made a significant number of audience members nod in knowing agreement, respond with visceral vocal reactions, and then cheer upon hearing that Shani Hadjian is unpacking her baggage with such determination that, soon, the baggage carousel will be closed. The stories about grade school humiliations, high school travesties, and college crimes committed against her heart were all perfectly paired up with songs designed to crack open the heart, either with sorrow, glee or any number of emotions landing on the spectrum between the two, always delivered by an actress who has the uncanny knack of dropping into the storyteller pocket in a moment's notice. It was a marvel, watching the ease with which this smiling, disarming and jovial artist changed before the eyes to become a sad character, embodying the musical history on display through carefully selected lyrics and woeful musical phrasing. Contrarywise, the element of surprise lurked around every corner, as a tale of heartbreak gave way to a musical offering of such merriment as to leave audiences screaming with laughter as they wiped away tears with their dinner napkins.

One such moment in FEAR.LESS included a frank discussion about having been hurt by so many people in her life that Ms. Hadjian taught herself to not feel, closing off to those around her, putting herself at risk for always being alone, a sad story to which many could relate (given the response this writer witnessed at neighboring tables) -- except that the musical number that followed this act of open vulnerability was "The People Upstairs", the aforementioned musical offering which brought forth howls of hilarity.

Spoiler alert: Shani Hadjian did not end up closed off to the point of being left to live alone. In a gloriously intimate moment, she introduced her wife to the audience, asking her to join her onstage for the song "You Loved Me", with Shani providing vocals and Emily Elkind (said wife) providing guitar accompaniment -- her first time performing in front of an audience, ever, and it has to be said that Ms. Elkind is a natural. The moving moment of musical lovemaking was infectious, their affection for one another rolling off the stage and into the audience like a mist of devotion, infatuating anyone with a heart through their soulful friendship.

The full house at The Laurie Beechman (a theater, by the way, with the nicest, most competent and heart-stoppingly handsome waiters in town) rested comfortably in Shani Hadjian's hands during this evening of watching her "shed my old skin and come into my truer self". As she shared with us her experiences with body dysmorphia "I have a difficult relationship with mirrors", eating disorders "I would never find happiness because of my size", and self-diminishment "I would wear baggy clothes to make myself smaller", we saw ourselves reflected in her journey, making it all the more rewarding to note how impossibly happy she is today "I'm smiling too much!". Ms. Hadjian discussed the emotional difficulty of being a woman who is 5'10" tall, but her physical stature is nothing compared to her spiritual one: she is an Amazon of Integrity, willing to open the eyes of her audience to the fact that they are not alone, that there are people with whom they share similar journeys, and that conversation, humor, honesty, and music are great ways to step out of the darkness and into the light "Resistance is the first step to change".

Among the flawless musical performances of the evening were songs from the musicals Bare, Something's Rotten, The Secret Garden and Mean Girls, with Hadjian receiving brilliant assistance from Janna Graham (drums), Megan Talay (guitar), musical director Anessa Marie (piano) and vocalists Brian Krinksy, Hassan Nazari-Robati, and Tina Scariano, and though it may be a spoiler, the closing number "Die Vampire Die" was the perfect way to end an evening about ridding your person of the fear that holds each of us hostage, and reclaiming your time, your self, and your life.

FEAR.LESS was a one-off, a benefit for The SOULE Foundation, an LGBTQ youth of color organization in The Bronx whose mission is to empower the education advancement of LGBTQ youth of color to become fully expressed individuals of offering dynamic programming, mentoring their life goals, and supporting educational goals through scholarships. And while I have spent several paragraphs praising FEAR.LESS, I have two complaints to register with Ms. Hadjian. The first of these complaints: the show was too short, clocking in at about 50 minutes. With so engaging and entertaining a woman, the audience craved more - one more song, one more anecdote, one more Hadjian laugh, and one more smile would have been the cherry on this sundae they will never forget. The other complaint: once is not enough. FEAR.LESS is a show that needs to be further developed and turned into a night of personal, musical, humor-filled, inspirational theater. It is just that good, and that important. It is my wish for New York audiences and those in towns across the country that FEAR.LESS become the next big one-person show to use theater to tell people it is time to close their baggage carousel and step into the light of life.

Catchup with Shani Hadjian at her Website

Shani Hadjian and Emily ElkindShani Hadjian and Emily Elkind

Shani Hadjian and Brian Krinsky and Hassan Nazari-RobatiShani Hadjian and Brian Krinsky and Hassan Nazari-Robati

Shani Hadjian and Tina Scariano and Brian Krinsky and Hassan Nazari-RobatiShani Hadjian and Tina Scariano and Brian Krinsky and Hassan Nazari-Robati

Shani Hadjian and Tina Scariano and Brian Krinsky and Hassan Nazari-RobatiShani Hadjian and Tina Scariano and Brian Krinsky and Hassan Nazari-Robati

Shani HadjianShani Hadjian

Photos by Stephen Mosher

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