Photo Credit: unknown

Deborah Stone
Here I Am
Pangea
Sept. 30, 2019

What does a triple threat do when her professional dancing days are over?  In Deborah Stone’s case, she creates a love-letter of a show to the dancer that she was, highlighting her graceful acting skills and her resonant, clarinet-like mix.  Supported by the creative John M, Cook at the piano, and director Lina Koutrakos, Stone, a skilled performer with chops to burn, built an always-enjoyable show of thematically-related high-quality songs (opening with Let’s Face The Music and Dance, and closing with Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz’s Dancing in the Dark), presented with elegance and variety. 

The show was well constructed, with a 2:1 familiar-to-obscure song ratio; delightfully, Cook and Stone couched the more familiar tunes in unexpected arrangements (a jazz reading of Let’s Face The Music and Dance (Irving Berlin), the verses of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Life Upon The Wicked Stage interrupted by real-life anecdotes about Stone’s early career in a topless club).  In tribute to her job as a swing in the LA cast of La Cage Aux Folles, Stone sang a medley of tunes from Jerry Herman’s score, including a heartfelt Look Over There which she dedicated to her own long-suffering mother.

The high points of the show for me were two songs I love to hate, and secretly dreaded when I saw them on the set list: Guess Who I Saw Today (Elisse Boyd, Murray Grand) and Comes Love (Lew Brown, Charles Tobias, Sam H. Stept).  However, Stone disarmed me with her completely realized and subtly nuanced reading of Guess Who I Saw Today, which turned what I consider to be a manipulative and dated contrivance of a song into a believable human tragedy. Comes Love was a tour de force of musical styles in rapid succession, brilliantly executed by Stone and Cook, and a brilliant solution to the problem of presenting a strophic song that has a tendency to morph rather quickly from predictable to annoying.  Far from annoyed, I was breathlessly engaged, wondering what strategy the pair would employ next.

The not-so-easy task in putting together an autobiographical show like this is finding the sweet spot between the cold recital of facts and the dreaded TMI.  The narrative strategy needs to make each anecdote a window into the specific humanity of the teller, as well as one through which the listeners can see and recognize themselves. Stone’s life experience, her journey from adolescent Met supernumerary to mature cabaret diva, certainly kept her narration lively. However, she remained a somewhat inscrutable presence on the cabaret stage, despite the autobiographical facts she imparted.

I go to a cabaret show prepared to listen like an enraptured and receptive lover.  At its best, meeting a new artist in a cabaret room can feel a little bit like the first rush of falling in love, when each lover takes turns enthralling the other with stories of past loves, when the foundations are laid for hundreds of private jokes—when the speaker’s hunger to be known and the listener’s enraptured receptivity meet in the middle.

My first “date” with Stone was amusing and pleasant, and I admired her prodigious talents, but there was a slightly packaged quality to her stories which kept me at a distance. However, I do look forward to a second date when she feels comfortable enough to unmask and share the gift of herself without reserve.