BWW Reviews: Rising Star Maxine Linehan Again Displays Her Beautiful Voice Through Beautiful Songs at the Metropolitan Room

BWW Reviews: Rising Star Maxine Linehan Again Displays Her Beautiful Voice Through Beautiful Songs at the Metropolitan Room

Cabaret Reviews and Commentary by Stephen Hanks

If on the first evening of October you were looking for a spot where you could just relax and leave your troubles outside, a particular cabaret show at the Metropolitan Room was definitely the place to be. To paraphrase a certain Emcee character from a classic Broadway musical, between 7-8:30 pm that night, life was beautiful. The songs were beautiful. Even the orchestra was beautiful.

But especially, the singer and her voice were beautiful.

Every year, there are a couple of young performers who seem to skyrocket up the cabaret charts and one of this season's emerging stars is Maxine Linehan. She came to the States from Ireland just a dozen years ago, performed her debut cabaret show in 2006, and then three years later staged a Petula Clark tribute. In the five years since, Linehan acted in Off-Broadway plays and appeared in the national tour of South Pacific, but has spent much of this period raising 4-year-old Rebecca and 21-month old Gabriel with songwriter/musician husband Andrew Koss. But with the help of nightlife impresario Scott Siegel, Linehan is definitely making up for lost time on the cabaret front. This spring, she staged performances of her autobiographical show An American Journey at Terminus Recording Studios for a recent CD release. Now, less than five months later, Linehan is in mid-run of a new show, Beautiful Songs, at the Metropolitan Room.

Between the Great American Songbook, Broadway shows, classic Blues and Jazz, and the best contemporary Pop, there are a bazillion beautiful songs. So how do you pick 14 of them for a cabaret show? As Linehan related early in her set, it's as simple as singing the ones you love. By their very nature, songs considered "beautiful" are almost always ballads and despite protestations about ballad-heavy cabaret shows from many quarters, sometimes a set dominated by soaring love songs or heart-aching torchiness just works. In fact, one of the few minor flaws in Linehan's set list was shoehorning into the show a mid tempo rocker like U2's "One Music." Stylistically, it just wasn't a good fit. In An American Journey, Linehan included U2's "Walk On." I don't think Bono will denounce Maxine's Irish heritage if she doesn't include one of his songs in her shows. (Although one wonders how soaring she could have been on a ballad arrangement of U2's "Beautiful Day," just for this show.)

BWW Reviews: Rising Star Maxine Linehan Again Displays Her Beautiful Voice Through Beautiful Songs at the Metropolitan RoomWith her auburn tresses seeming to glow set off against a flattering black evening gown, the adorably freckled Linehan looks like a character from the TV series, Downton Abbey; a hybrid of an elegant ruling class Crawley daughter and a cute, spunky downstairs kitchen maid. She opened the show walking through the Met Room audience while singing Leslie Bricusse's "Walk Through the World" from the 1969 film, Goodbye Mr. Chips and from the outset the show had an elegant, sophisticated aura that was greatly enhanced by the inspired choice of orchestral accompaniment. Along with Musical Director Ryan Shirar on piano, Linehan's four-piece band included the glorious sounds of strings and reeds; Joseph Brent playing violin, mandolin, and guitar, Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf on cello, and Justin Vance alternating between flute, oboe, and clarinet. Then on Maury Yeston's "Love Can't Happen" from Grand Hotel, Linehan proved her voice was no less a polished instrument, as she displayed her affinity for modulating her voice from a purr to a powerful belt.

When Linehan performed her American Journey show at a recording studio this past spring, she seemed to be concentrating so intently on sounding beautiful for the CD production (which was released this month), it detracted from her intimacy with the small studio audience. But Maxine seemed comfortably unleashed at the Metropolitan Room show. While she could stand to loosen up a little and work the room a bit more, in Beautiful Songs she exhibited a much stronger connection to the audience and to her material.

On the 1933 classic "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," it was fascinating to learn that Jerome Kern had envisioned the tune as a march until lyricist Otto Harbach insisted it be a ballad. It wasn't smoke but tears that got in my eyes as Linehan and her wonderful musicians transformed the song into a romantic waltz. You would have never known Linehan had been battling a cold right up until show time as she supplied a powerful finish to Cole Porter's "I Love Paris" from Can Can; was positively commanding on both the English and French lyrics on the Edith Piaf classic "Hymne a l'amour; was stirring on a marvelous Celtic-style arrangement of the Irish anthem "Danny Boy," and on what could have been a musical cliche, she made the sensual Latin standard "Sway" work by being subtly slinky, sultry, and seductive. One of the show's more fun moments came when Linehan offered "I Think of You," a mid-tempo contemporary Pop melody with clever lyrics written for her by husband Andrew Koss. The song was more bouncy than beautiful, but if your spouse penned, "Yes, We Have No Bananas" it would be among the most beautiful songs ever written.

The show's highlights came in the second half of the set. Brian Wilson's Beach Boys classic, "God Only Knows" paired with Irving Berlin's "What'll I Do," seemed the unlikeliest of medley/mash ups, but when Linehan ended with "God only knows what I'd do without you," you could have just about melted in your seat. For her finale, Linehan offered a devastatingly beautiful rendition of Matt Alber's haunting 2008 hit "The End of the World." Thankfully, it wasn't quite the end of the show, as Linehan's encore was an enchanting vocal on a delightful arrangement of "Never Never Land" from Peter Pan.

To again paraphrase that Emcee from that iconic Broadway musical, if you could see Maxine Linehan through my eyes, she'd definitely look like a 2014 BroadwayWorld Cabaret Award nominee.

Maxine Linehan will perform Beautiful Songs again at the Metropolitan Room on Wednesday, October 15 at 7pm and Wednesday, October 22 at 9pm. For tickets, call: 212-206-0440

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From This Author Stephen Hanks

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