Photo Credit: Glenn Jussen

Warm, sincere, thoughtful; a mature woman of depth and substance, with a round contralto and a twinkle in her eye—who wouldn’t want to spend an hour in the company of Deborah Zecher?  

Ms. Zecher’s debut cabaret show, On Purpose, charted her course from bat mitzvah to a career as a member of the first, groundbreaking generation of women rabbis through to her second act as a cabaret performer, with pit stop at yoga class.  Her mostly contemporary song list explored themes of female empowerment, blessings, and gratitude, with energy, humor, and the rock-solid support of pianist/singer/songwriter Tracy Stark.

Autobiographical cabaret shows may be a dime a dozen, but few performers have as unique and inspiring a story to tell as Ms. Zecher does.  In I’m A Woman (Lieber/Stoller, additional lyrics by Lennie Watts), Ms. Zecher began by enumerating the roles women were traditionally forbidden in religious Judaism, then turned the tables to celebrate the achievements of women in Judaism, primarily due to Zecher and her fellow women rabbis of the 1980s.  That sounds potentially pompous, but thanks to director Lennie Watts, the number was a comic triumph.

The other comic triumph of the night was Rona Siddiqui’s Om Shanti Om, a story song satirizing Americans’ deeply American relationship with yoga, in which Ms. Stark’s honeyed tones perfectly captured the role of yoga teacher.

Stark’s vocal contributions were not limited to Om Shanti Om: she sang backup on her own hard-driving and bluesy Woman On The Stage; and on the rousing eleven o’clock number, This is Me (Pasek/Paul), she wove snatches of  The Mary Tyler Moore Show theme Love Is All Around (Curtis), in beautiful counterpoint that powerfully summarized 45 years of herstory.

One is advised, when changing careers, to concentrate on “transferable skills,” and Ms. Zecher’s work as a spiritual leader transfers beautifully to the cabaret stage.  She has a calm, grounded presence and a high level of comfort with her roles as scholar, teacher, feminist, friend, mother, and wife, but a lightness as well. “When we sing, we pray twice,” she said, quoting St. Augustine, and that seemed to encapsulate the serious joy she finds in singing “On Purpose.”