BWW Reviews: Singer WENDY A. RUSSELL Reflects On Her Life With Solid Debut Show at Don't Tell Mama

By: Jun. 28, 2015

For such a time as this
Isn't it much too great a risk
I've never flown from the edge of a cliff
Never walked on the water
But if I turned away
How would I know what I have missed
Have I waited all of my life
For such a time as this

--"For Such a Time As This" Anne Barbour

From the moment she steps on stage and sings the entire first verse of Gloria Estefan's "Coming Out of the Dark"--in the dark--you get the impression this is not going to be one of those usual personal journey "I've-been-everywhere-and-done-everything" kind of acts. In her debut show, Where Have I Been All My Life (June 18 and 27 at Don't Tell Mama), Wendy A. Russell vividly presents the personal metamorphosis of a post-modern woman. Quoting Woody Allen's "90% of life is just showing up," Russell states she showed up 100% of the time and still found life lacking, which is understandable considering she was raised with the "good girl" mentality of the 1960s "Mad Men" era. She never made waves or demands and was just a "nice girl" going along with the crowd, displaying a sweetly flirtatious person, as when in this show she sings "When In Rome" (Coleman/Leigh).

Raised from good New England theatrical stock, Russell tells the story of her mom and dad who met performing in summer stock. Mom, a model, and Dad, a playwright (who wrote for the NY based soap operas Dark Shadows and One Life To Live), raised four daughters on the glorious Upper West Side. Paying homage to her parents, Russell beautifully sings a tender mash-up of "Something Wonderful" (Rodgers/Hammerstein/) into "Can't Help Lovin' That Man of Mine" (Kern/Hammerstein). With her parents success came a big move from Manhattan to Brooklyn causing Russell to feel a deep loss for her "special life" which had now become "ordinary." Singing "No Rain" (Blind Melon) brings teenage Russell (and her audience) to the conclusion that perhaps she's not crazy after all--she just doesn't fit with the day-to-day life of "the girl from Brooklyn." So go west, young woman. Go Upper West Side.

As a single young woman, Russell jubilantly reflects her move back to Manhattan with a terrific mash-up of Charnin and Strouse's "NYC" into Kander and Ebbs's "City Lights." With life comes a hard lesson learned that perhaps not making waves doesn't always serve a woman well--especially in relationships. Showcasing her considerable acting chops, Russell delivers one of the most emotionally devastating moments of the evening--a brilliant mash up of "For No One" (Lennon/McCartney) into Carly Simon's "Comin' Around Again," powerfully sung as a gut wrenching internalized monologue of a cornered distraught housewife.

Russell raises two terrific daughters and reflects on those happy days by singing the lovely and heartfelt Mother's lament "Stop Time" (Maltby/Shire). As much as we'd all like to stop time, Russell proudly displays photos of her adorable granddaughter. "When I Look Into Your Eyes" (Bricusse) transitions into another great arrangement, with "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" (Lennon/McCartney). Mid-song, Russell reads an excerpt from Louis Carroll's "The Walrus & the Carpenter" under the enchanting lights and sound provided by Colette Black that so tenderly enhance that moment and others throughout the evening.

Musical Director Steven Ray Watkins on piano and harmonious vocal backups and Director Lennie Watts collaborated successfully (with Russell) on uniquely tailored arrangements that spotlighted Russell's exquisite voice, refreshing humility, and simple "less is more" approach to life thereby giving greater clarity and drama to the evening.

As a respected teacher, backup singer, and supporter of the Arts, Russell is a staple of the New York cabaret community and she fittingly ends her show by sharing another life lesson with another great mash up--"I Want It All" (Maltby/Shire} and "Passionate Kisses" (L. Williams). With her encore "All You Need Is Love" (Lennon/McCartney) her message to her audience provides a sounder understanding of "where she's been all her life" and, certainly, where she's going.

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