Photo Credit: Jennie Litt
Diminutive in stature, impressionist-singer-actress Christina Bianco is a towering talent. She took time from her busy international touring schedule this month to present a series of CD-release shows at the Birdland Theater, backed by a tight quartet of musicians (piano, bass, drums, and guitar), in celebration of “Life Of The Party,” her deliriously over-funded IndieGoGo project recorded live in London.
The crowd-funding patform IndieGoGo allows artists to offer incentives to potential donors, and one of Bianco’s incentives was the chance to perform with her at her CD-release show. Enough investors jumped at this to ensure that each of Bianco’s three NYC dates would feature different guests and repertoire. This is in addition to the ever-changing roster of fellow artists (actor-singer Tyce Green and Broadway’s N’Kenge, the night I attended) already on the bill to round out Bianco’s own cast of a thousand divas who reside in her remarkable vocal cords.
Bianco rose to viral video stardom courtesy of YouTube, which captured her spot-on take-offs of divas as diverse as Shirley Bassey, Christina Aguilera, Liza Minnelli, Edith Piaf, Stevie Nicks, Cher, and Shakira. Bianco dresses her vocal impressions in each diva’s characteristic gestures: Barbra Streisand’s languorous index finger stroking her hair behind her ear; Kristin Chenoweth kicking up her heel; Aguilera’s overwrought pointing as she growls out her melismas. Thursday’s most mischievous vocal and physical impression was the Donna Summer hit, Hot Stuff (Faltermeyer/Bellotte/Forsey), as sung by Julie Andrews, which Bianco capped by clapping her hand to the top of her head and stage-whispering “Le—stuff—hot!” in a double reference to Victor, Victoria and The Sound of Music.
Despite her ability to impersonate dozens of divas within the space of a single song, Bianco never hides behind her impressions; her personality shines warmly from the stage. Especially charming was the I’m Every Woman (Ashford & Simpson) sequence, in which Bianco explained how she came to be an impressionist in the first place, reminiscing about her upstate New York childhood when she amused herself for hours singing along to her parents’ record collection and unconsciously reproducing exactly what she heard. And she sang fully of third of the evening’s songs in her own voice—a versatile instrument that moved between musical-theatre-style legit and an exciting pop belt—and persona: friendly, open-hearted and authentic.
The meat of any Bianco show, of course, is the head-spinning parade of diva impressions, made all the more enjoyable because it’s so obvious Bianco is enjoying herself so much. On Thursday night, Christina Aguilera bellowed A Spoonful of Sugar (Sherman/Sherman); ABBA’s The Winner Takes It All (Ulvaeus/Andersson) received a makeover courtesy of Edith Piaf; and in a particularly impressive turn, Bianco took audience requests for song and diva, and collaborated with pianist Brian Nash to improvise It’s My Party (Gluck/Gold/Weiner/Gottlieb) as wrung from the heart by Celine Dion. Lucky IndieGogo contributor of the night Drew Desky duetted with Bianco on One Day More from Les Misérables (Schönberg/Boublil), and performed some nifty impressions of his own, while guest Tyce Green did a passable Patti LuPone sneering The Ladies Who Lunch (Sondheim). Finally, the whole audience got into the act, singing backup for Bianco on her eleven o’clock number, Total Eclipse of the Heart (Steinman), in which diva succeeded diva with almost machine-gun rapidity—an act of sheer vocal and comedic brilliance.
Bianco was solidly supported by musical director Nash, bassist Dylan Shamat, guitarist Lily Maase, and percussionist Rick Donato.