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BWW Review: Anneliese van der Pol Shows Off a Touch of Star Quality at Feinstein's/54 Below

Invoking Barbra, Judy and a host of other mononymous musical divas, Anneliese Van Der Pol came to play during her solo show at Feinstein's/54 Below on September 29. Winningly self-deprecating, van der Pol (VANITIES) kept the show moving and refreshingly loose, joking after the first number, "So I'm Laura Benanti..."

Unable to decide between two potential opening numbers, she sang them both: showing off more than a touch of star quality with EVITA's "Buenos Aires" (Andrew Lloyd Webber) and raising the roof with "Here I Am" (David Yazbek) from DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS. A running joke of the evening was that the show would be swiftly cancelled, as the first one was. While she didn't go into much detail, she did joke that the only reason this performance worked out was that Linda Eder (who just wrapped a few shows of her own at the venue) had "an ingrown toenail." Following her second number, she deadpanned, "Thanks for coming. Have a good night!"

Van der Pol, perhaps best known for her role as Chelsea Daniels on That's So Raven, appeared to have an uneasy relationship with the Disney sitcom, acknowledging its importance in her career while trying to distance herself from it. As she told it, she'd encountered some harsh young fans of the series, who, as she put it, made a point of "telling [her] how irrelevant I am."

Throughout the show, van der Pol was determined to stand on her own two feet as a performer. When her friend in the audience, frequent Feinstein's/54 Below performer Tyce Green, offered to duet with her on "Move On" (Stephen Sondheim), she half-joked, "I don't want anyone upstaging me!"

Aside from Jacob Yates, accompanying her on the piano, that was also clear from the pair of collaborations she did agree to, which were among the less memorable moments of the evening. The first was a duet with Arielle Murphy on the Craig Carnelia-penned "Flight" full of harmonies, though, as van der Pol herself noted, "none of which I did correctly."

Regardless, the pair proved to be a skillful comedic duo, trash-talking one another and going for broke during the night's funniest bit. After jokingly complaining that she'd been waiting on an order of steak and fries for half an hour ("I'm a guest, too!"), the good folks at Feinstein's/54 Below delivered. She and Murphy took a lengthy and impromptu act break to sample the meal, facing away from the cackling crowd.

Though she hit every note, her direct homage to Judy Garland on "Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz mostly faded into the background, as it took some time for van der Pol to match the melancholia that makes Garland's original take so resonant nearly eight decades later.

Yet that was a rare off-moment for the gifted performer, who committed herself entirely to the world of each song for most of her set, even getting misty-eyed while singing "Pretty Funny" (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul). Her devastating take on "She Used to Be Mine" (Sara Bareilles) from WAITRESS had the audience hollering in admiration and, in at least one case, inspiring that rare smile you get when someone hits a note that feels impossible.

Toward the end of the show, she jokingly solicited song requests from the audience. After a handful of audience members shouted out titles like "A Change in Me" (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) and "Cute Boys with Short Hair Cuts" (VANITIES), she cracked, "Oh yeah, I'm known for two songs."

Opting not to sing any of the requested tracks, she did give in slightly, hesitantly doing a quick rendition of the rap from the Raven theme. That apprehension made her song selection from the evening that much more puzzling.

In terms of showing off her powerhouse vocal ability, van der Pol couldn't have picked a better crop. She sounded spectacular reviving both "I Got Lost in His Arms" (Irving Berlin) from ANNIE GET YOUR GUN and "Not For the Life of Me" (Jeanine Tesori), from her lead role in THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE several years ago.

Yet for someone in her early 30s vocal about attempting to start a new chapter, singing songs from auditions and productions from her child star days is an admittedly odd choice.

Then again, the reason may be a simple one: she sounds incredible singing them. And any remaining confusion fell away when witnessing van der Pol's closing medley of "This is One of Those Moments," "No Matter What Happens" and "Piece of Sky" (Alan & Marilyn Bergman, Michel Legrand) from Yentl.

Dissatisfied with her vibrato on the first take on medley's conclusion, she insisted on a do-over, thrillingly holding that piercing final note for what felt like minutes until she finally had to wind it down, bringing the whole damn thing with her.

For all her efforts to redefine herself, van der Pol spent more time over the course of the night turning back, rather than looking ahead. And with an impressive number of showstoppers, a show that is 75 percent climax could be exhausting. But in van der Pol's more-than-capable hands, it was thrilling.

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From This Author Troy Frisby