Photo Credit: Pam Ziolo
Deb Berman has a voice like sweet, sticky barbecue sauce with a sneaky hit of heat, which transforms every song she sings into something unique—and uniquely delicious. Dark, supple, always perfectly pitched to the room, this voice is a masterful instrument wielded with such subtlety and craft that you might get halfway through the show before you realize how special it is. You might have been distracted by Berman’s distinctively personal take on each song, which together added up to a life retrospective of this assured, mature artist who, having achieved the dubious honor of a monthly Social Security payout, is unquestionably “Still Swingin’.”
Clocking in at under 60 minutes, this fast-moving show felt almost too short, though it had a generous 15-song set list. Most of the numbers were uptempo, and patter was minimal; yet the whole added up to a coherent autobiography in song, bookended by two songs about swinging (It Don’t Mean A Thing [If It Ain’t Got That Swing] [Mills/Ellington], and Things Are Swingin’ [Lee/Marshall]) to ground us thematically.
After welcoming the audience with warmth and gentle humor via the Peter Napolitano/Barry Levitt original “Make Yourself At Home,” Berman got into the meat of the program. Standout moments from her life story in song included Another Hundred People (Sondheim) with a bit of The Trolley Song (Martin/Blane) thrown in, sparked by the reminiscence of her first voice lessons at age 14, and the series of trains and busses she had to take to get there; a peaceful domestic interlude with her infant son in a gorgeous reading of Make You Feel My Love (Dylan), sweetened by bassist Tom Hubbard’s yearning arco; and a surprising, jazz-funk reconception of You Can’t Do That (Lennon/McCartney, with additional lyrics by Berman) that was at once sad, angry, and funny, as she narrated the dissolution of her marriage.
The next three numbers constituted a trifecta of eleven o’clock numbers. Berman’s rendition of Maltby and Shire’s Life Story was stunning in its particularity and depth of feeling. In You’re Awful (Comden/Green/Edens, with additional lyrics by Berman), Berman duetted with musical director Gregory Toroian, understated and dapper at the piano, trading backhanded compliments with evident enjoyment. And in tribute to her second-act career as “the singing realtor,” Berman repeatedly and hilariously interrupted On The Sunny Side of the Street (Fields/McHugh, additional lyrics by Berman) to flog her listings.
Vito Lesczak (drums) completed the excellent band, and Geoff Stoner directed.