BWW Review: MY MIDLIFE CABARET a Showstopping Event
If you look closely at the photo to the left, you see a woman looking at an image of herself in the mirror. However, the two womern are decidedly different in dress and demeanor. The image wears a smile and is happy; perhaps the woman on the opposite side wishes she were living her life on the other side. Juliet Fischer-Schulein, a former Rockette and Broadway dancer/actress/singer brought her Midlife crisis, excuse me, Cabaret to Sterling's Upstairs at the Federal Sunday evening, March 24 to a packed house of admiring fans and colleagues. This lady is a one.of.a.kind, knock.'em. dead performer, who, in spite of her real life pain and depression, enjoys being onstage so much, she gains at least momentary happiness from the experience. And what do we receive as her audience? A whole lot of entertaining stories, songs and even dance....and, more urgently, a desire to put ourselves in the driver's seat and forge ahead to find some balance in our own existence.
The 70- minute set was hardly a downer. Fischer-Schulein is too great a pro to let that happen. She did not conceive her show as a therapy session. Yes, she expresses pain, but made her anecdotes and songs full of fun and the passion that has made her such a popular success as a performer. She has a terrific husband, two delightful kids and adores them. The entertaining part of her made fun of it all, making married/mother life seem unbearable. "Child abuse," she quipped, " ... I'm not going to do it, but I get it!" When she auditioned years earlier for the Radio City Rockettes, she called the audition grueling and her life as a rockette "creatively stifling"." In a world of penguins, I was a peacock." Yet, she stayed with it until Broadway called with On the Town, A Christmas Carol and national tours of Chicago and Kiss Me Kate. She danced under the direction of such notables as Susan Stroman and Ann Reinking...and can still kick that leg above her head...which The Rockettes kept admonishing her for. "Keep it lower, Juliet, not so high!"
So there are pluses and minuses on both sides of the fence. After a long break from performing, she was offered the Lily Tomlin role in 9 to 5, "sharp-tongued, sarcastic, just like me." The engagement brought her excitement once more, and following that, she again felt inadequate as a wife and mother. She went into therapy and is still seeking that balance.
Fischer-Shulein was superbly directed by Joe Lauderdale and backed by musical director Roxanna Ward at the piano and David Page on drums, both wonderful musicians. She also had two backup singers Rebecca Butkovick and Rob Harryman, who did a lovely job...and fab dancer James Petit, who studies dance with her. She also brought her hubbie Doug Schulein onstage and sang a touching "Only You" to him. Other highlights included: Sondheim's "Being Alive", "I Wanna Be a Rockette" and on the humorous side, "Pretty Legs and Great Big Knockers" and "Mommy Is a Rockstar". A very intense but riveting song was "Breathe". I had never heard it, but it served her well in expressing her tremendous pain.
Showing both sides to her life, she changed clothes, from her black sequined and scanty rockette outfit, showing off her great legs, to sweats and a bathrobe and later, while the fine orchestra combo played, into jeans, tee shirt and outer unisex plaid shirt. She seemed comfortable, shining brightly in both worlds.
If the show sounds heavy, it was not. Juliet Fischer-Schlein is a great entertainer, who can sing, certainly dance, but more than anything else, she proved herself one hell of an actress. She can make you laugh and then cry within seconds. Watch out for her, world!