Penny Fuller at The Metropolitan Room: Applause, Applause
"All of the songs in this show are by composers I've known," Penny Fuller explains to her Metropolitan Room audience. "For those of you expecting Jerome Kern and Gilbert and Sullivan ," she adds, not able to finish that thought before the room is bathed in warm, appreciative laughter.
Watching the supremely poised Ms. Fuller gracefully glide from saucy to sincere, from brash youth to timid middle-ager and from Rodgers to Strouse to Finn and back in her extremely well-crafted show entitled Friends In Deed, you may be shocked to learn that it's her cabaret debut. No less shocking is the fact that this splendid actor and singer who made her Broadway musical debut as Jill Haworth's standby in Cabaret before earning a Tony nomination as Eve Harrington in Applause, made her last Broadway musical appearance playing the duel roles of Ann Boleyn and the future Elizabeth I in Rex, over thirty years ago. Yes, there have been some splendid Off-Broadway showings, including William Finn's A New Brain, and another Tony nomination for her work in Neil Simon's The Dinner Party during that gap, but at the Metropolitan Room she is everything you'd want from a Broadway musical star.
With excellent work by Paul Greenwood at piano and Louis Tucci at bass, the Barry Kleinbort-directed set begins with a cool jazz mix of Rodgers and Harnick's "No Song More Pleasing" (sung as a madrigal in Rex) and Kander and Ebb's "Sing Happy." Lightly touching on career highlights for anecdotal patter, she tells of a humorous experience while appearing in Washington D.C. with John Raitt and Jan Clayton in Carousel before shedding decades before our eyes in a believably youthful and flirty "Mr. Snow."
She heroically charges through Kleinbort's hilarious "A Sondheim Song," a comic collage of parody snippets ("There are worse things than singing an obligatory Sondheim ") and is delightfully kittenish with Lee Adams' new lyric for "The Woman For The Man Who Has Everything," revised for the female perspective. ("I'm the woman for the man who has everything./That's conceited, I'm aware/But it's true so I don't care.")
In revisiting earlier triumphs she uses "Goodtime Charley," a Kander and Ebb number cut from Cabaret, as a prelude to the show's title song, presenting herself as an especially ballsy and faux-erudite Sally Bowles. Her Eve Harrington soliloquy, "One Halloween," still hits the gut hard.
Though Ballroom's "Fifty Percent" (Goldenberg, Bergman and Bergman) has become a cabaret standard, I've never heard it sung so softly and tenderly. She precedes it with another fine theatre song that was cut from the show, "Job Application," where the widowed character tries entering the work force, although her only experience is that of wife and mother. When presented back to back, the need to feel useful again expressed in the first song gives insight into her willingness to enter into a relationship with a married man in the second one.
The emotional and dramatic showpiece of the night is a five-song cycle of "One For My Baby" (Arlen and Mercer), "My Old Flame" (Johnston and Coslow), "I Don't Remember You" (Kander and Ebb), "No More" and "Well, I'm Not!" (both Strouse and Adams), sung without applause breaks, tracing the gradual healing of a broken heart.
Penny Fuller's next assignment is a return to Off-Broadway in Horton Foote's Dividing The Estate, but let's hope it isn't long before she'll be singing again on Broadway in another exciting leading role.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto