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Review: Gerrilyn Sohn IF JOE ALLEN'S WALLS COULD SING & OTHER HIDDEN GEMS at Don't Tell Mama by Guest Reviewer Andrew Poretz

Review: Gerrilyn Sohn IF JOE ALLEN'S WALLS COULD SING & OTHER HIDDEN GEMS at Don't Tell Mama by Guest Reviewer Andrew Poretz

Gerrilyn Sohn returns to Don't Tell Mama with a cleverly-themed new show.

Gerrilyn Sohn

If Joe Allen's Walls Could Sing & Other Hidden Gems

Don't Tell Mama

July 31, 2022

By Andrew Poretz

A couple of lifetimes ago, Bing Crosby introduced a bit called "The Flop Parade," songs that never made it. (Sinatra famously recorded one such flop, "There's a Flaw in My Flue," just to see if the "suits" were paying attention.) The legendary Joe Allen's restaurant on Restaurant Row is decorated with posters from many a Broadway musical with one common thread: every last one of them was considered a flop, even some attached to some of the biggest names in musical theater history: David Merrick, Stephen Schwartz, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, and countless others. Most closed within a week of opening, some even the same night. Untold thousands of patrons have seen these posters, but it took the night cabaret singer Gerrilyn Sohn had the epiphany to create a show around these flop posters. The rough title, she told me, came to her in a dream: "If these walls could sing."

As it turns out, many musical "hidden gems" were left behind by such flops, including songs that are jazz and theater standards today, like "Darn That Dream" and "The Gentleman is a Dope." Ms. Sohn has taken a large handful of some of the best songs that came from these failed projects and, with the help of director Lennie Watts and music director Steven Ray Watkins, created her strongest effort to date. If Joe Allen's Walls Could Sing is brilliantly written and executed. Ms. Sohn is a talented, classically trained singer and a fine actor with big, expressive eyes and an unparalleled ability to wring every last ounce of pathos out of a lyric.

One might say that this was the hottest show in town, if only because the air conditioning in the smaller "Brick Room" wasn't cutting it, with the temperature near 90 degrees outside. With a capacity crowd of melting cabaret aficionados, the decision was made to move to the larger (and much cooler) Original Room next door, an event so unusual that it has happened only once before at Don't Tell Mama. The staff did such a great job handling this that it took maybe five minutes or so for everyone to be reseated and the show started. When it did start, the coolest person in the room was its star, Ms. Gerrilyn Sohn.

Review: Gerrilyn Sohn IF JOE ALLEN'S WALLS COULD SING & OTHER HIDDEN GEMS at Don't Tell Mama by Guest Reviewer Andrew Poretz

Ms. Sohn arrived at the mic dazzling and elegant in a sparkling black dress, with a cold open of "Sure Thing Baby" (Peter Allen) from Legs Diamond, a 1988 show that lasted a whopping 64 performances. It was no sure thing, of course. It took a couple of songs for Ms. Sohn to find her center, but once she did, not even a mic dying mid-song could stop her.

This delightful performer has a warm stage presence, an excellent voice that can switch from chest to head on a dime, and funny, useful patter filled with well-researched stories and trivia about the shows and songs. As a woman who wears her big heart on her sleeve when performing, she uses those big, expressive eyes to great effect. Her emotional rendition of "Here's that Rainy Day" (Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke) from Carnival in Flanders, an enormous 1935 flop that ran for six performances, was delivered with such searing pathos that it left her shaking and teary, and left this reviewer thinking, "So that's what this song is about!" (This may well be the biggest song to come from a flop musical: it is a jazz standard that's been covered by hundreds of singers, and Tonight Show Host Johnny Carson loved it so much, he took six months of intensive jazz guitar instruction to learn only that song, and played it live on television in 1965, coincidentally the year Joe Allen's opened.)

Review: Gerrilyn Sohn IF JOE ALLEN'S WALLS COULD SING & OTHER HIDDEN GEMS at Don't Tell Mama by Guest Reviewer Andrew Poretz

A "Wall Medley" of songs from five flops included "I'll Never Go There Anymore," from Kelly, the show that started the tradition of flop posters on Joe Allen's walls. (This show closed the same night it opened in 1965, losing an astounding $650,000, about $5.8 million today.) The medley represented such composers and lyricists as Moose Charlap with Eddie Lawrence, Martin Charnin with Lionel Bart, and Charles Strouse with Richard Maltby, Jr. Ms. Sohn handled the medley with pizzazz, but her "11 o'clock number" came a few songs early with a spectacular coupling of "Time Heals Everything" from Mack and Mabel (Jerry Herman) and "Not a Day Goes By" from Merrily We Roll Along (Stephen Sondheim). Once again, the star reached an emotional depth that took her to a breathtaking musical climax, and the audience joined her.

Ms. Sohn wisely returned the audience to a joyful place with her confession of being the shy girl in high school. This led her to discuss Chess, a show with music by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus with music by Tim Rice and Björn Ulvaeus. "I always wanted a chance to sing it," she said.

Lennie Watts' direction made the most of the tight stage, with Ms. Sohn seamlessly guided, as if by invisible spikes, to take her marks at various mics, stools, and even on the piano. This was even more impressive when one considers the last-minute switcheroo of cabaret rooms. The fine arrangements by music director Steven Ray Watkins, particularly the jazzy, uptempo numbers, were driven by the excellent Sean Murphy on double bass.

Review: Gerrilyn Sohn IF JOE ALLEN'S WALLS COULD SING & OTHER HIDDEN GEMS at Don't Tell Mama by Guest Reviewer Andrew Poretz

Gerrilyn Sohn has grown tremendously as a performer and storyteller since her Don't Tell Mama debut only a few years ago with Something Cool in 2019 (which I attended and enjoyed). There is one remaining performance of the show on Thursday, August 4th. You might want to end your evening with a nightcap across the street at Joe Allen's bar. Tell 'em Kelly sent you.

Photos courtesy of Steve Bustamante

To learn more about Gerrilyn Sohn, visit https://www.gerrilynsohn.com.

For more great shows at Don't Tell Mama, visit https://donttellmamanyc.com.

Late breaking news: Gerrilyn Sohn IF Joe Allen'S WALLS COULD SING has added peformances on September 10th and 24th.

Gerrilyn Sohn

If Joe Allen's Walls Could Sing & Other Hidden Gems

Don't Tell Mama

West 46th Street, NYC

Review: Gerrilyn Sohn IF JOE ALLEN'S WALLS COULD SING & OTHER HIDDEN GEMS at Don't Tell Mama by Guest Reviewer Andrew Poretz Andrew Poretz, "The Boulevardier of Broadway," is an entertainer (singer, guitarist, ukulele player and storyteller), producer, and a reviewer of jazz and cabaret shows, primarily for Theater Pizzazz. An early podcaster, his "Coaches' Corner on BlogTalkRadio" segments are still available on iTunes. Andrew has performed in prominent venues throughout New York and the Bay Area. Andrew is also a board member of The American Popular Song Society. His blog, "The Boulevardier," can be found at www.andrewporetz.com


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