CABARET HOTLINE PERFORMANCE REVIEW
Bronwyn Rucker: A Subway Named Desire
March 8, 2006 at the Duplex
by Joe Regan, Jr.
I confess that sometime ago when I first heard Bronwyn Rucker at one of Trudi Mann’s open miks at Chez Suzette I didn’t get her. I remember her introducing her number as a ballad and stated that Erv Raible said she should never sing a ballad. And at that time I remember, after her performance, that I agreed with Erv. However, over the past year, I have heard Bronwyn many times at Trudi’s (now at LaBella) Sunday afternoon open mics and have been very impressed with her performances, particularly on the ballads like "Feeling Green" which is a highlight of her recently released CD "Bright Blue" on Original Cast Records. In addition, one of the brightest spots in Alfredo Z’s cabaret show about the movie songs of the fifties was Bronwyn’s duet with Alfredo on "How To Be Lovely" from Funny Face.
After hearing her CD and seeing her recent appearances I was sorry that I missed her show "A Subway Named Desire" at the Duplex last October which Stu Hamstra chose as one of highlights of 2005. Determined to fill in the gap of my cabaret viewing, I was able to attend Bronwyn’s third show this past Wednesday at the Duplex. I was out of the country for the first two of this series. First of all, I have to also confess that my major impression of Bronwyn’s talent was that she was a quirky comedienne with bizarre takes on rhythm songs (some of which she sings with asides).
After seeing the show Wednesday night I have revised my opinion. Bronwyn is an accomplished dramatic actress who is skillful enough to incorporate human comedy (in the best sense of the humanist definition) into her presentation. Ably supported by pianist arranger Woody Regan (no relation), Rucker began with three dramatic ballads melded into one identity, Amanda McBroom’s "The Portrait", Alec Wilder and Loonis McGlohon’s "Blackberry Winter" (also on the CD), and Jerry Herman’s "Time Heals Everything". She nailed every note in the music and every meaning in those extraordinary lyrics and I could only think "Wow! She’s beginning at the top---where is she going to go from here?"
Well, the next number, continuing a "time" theme, was a nutty version of the Jule Styne-Betty Comden and Adolph Green "Just In Time" with all of Bronwyn’s nutty asides about what is going on in our world and her world! She then begins the subway odyssey of the show’s title, doing a Blanche DuBois impression perfectly, stating "I heard there was a subway named desire" and traveling to the Ground Zero area to deal with her job entertaining the homeless at a shelter there (who, incidentally, were ignored in the evacuation of the area!), doing stream of conscious on, among other things, Shaw’s St. Joan, riffing about being "in control" while the world is in chaos, including snatches of songs like "I Can’t Say No" and "Simple Joys of Maidenhood", all the while impersonating a straphanger assailed by the various types of New York characters who ride the subway oblivious to other people’s lives.
She then launches into an accented version of Arthur Hamilton’s "Cry Me A River" with asides about her experiences with the great actress-teacher Uta Hagen, and the importance of objectification in acting and reacting. It’s an absolute hoot, especially when Rucker returns the melody of the song in the strangest accent!
After that tour de force, Rucker steps stage center and delivers one of the most impressive Weill-Brecht-Blitzstein "Pirate Ship Jenny" I have seen since the great Lotte Lenya. Again hitting every note and every gut wrenching lyric line one wishes she were doing the full part in the next revival! She switches gears for some Rodgers & Hammerstein ("Surrey With the Fringe on Top") and then begins "America the Beautiful" and discusses September 11th, the recovery efforts, her Beaver Street Center for the Homeless (where she sings and dances for the homeless to help their emotional lives), the "smell of unsettled souls" of the victims, and states "We must never forget---Rebuild! Renew! Recover! NYC!"
Rucker switches pace again, hopping on the piano to do the standard "All of Me" (Seymour Simons & Gerald Marks) with all her original comic riffs then into two pieces of material written by Regan and her which meld into everything from "It’s My Party" to "The Trolley Song" adapted to the subway (i.e., "Clang Clang Clang went the subway..")
Rucker is an extremely physical performer, at times exhausting the audience watching her, jumping from one end of the stage to another, incorporating gymnastic choreographic set pieces and showing us boundless energy. Oh, did I mention that the only comedian I could compare her to in her political commentary was the late, great Lenny Bruce (without the dirty words)! She closes with a moving ‘On Saturday Afternoon" by Rickie Lee Jones.
Well, after writing this, I feel that words are poor substitutes for the actual experience of Bronwyn Rucker’s act, "A Subway Named Desire". Superbly supported by Woody Regan, and directed by Erv Raible, you have one more chance to see this act at the Duplex, at 7 pm this coming Wednesday, March 15th. The Duplex is at 61 Christopher Street and the telephone number for reservations is (212) 255-5438. There is a $15.00 music charge and 2 drink minimum.
Incidentally, there is also a CD party for Bronwyn this Friday, March 17th hosted by Joe Franklin at Danny’s Skylight Room Cabaret, 346 West 46 Street, New York, NY at 9:15 pm ($10 cover, $12 food and drink minimum) (212-265-8133).
Show Poster Designed by Tony Montano
By Kevin Scott Hall, Contributor
June 3, 2014
Performing at Danny's Skylight Room