Unplugged & Unplanned
The Green Room 42
February 23, 2020
Additional Performances March 6, 15, 22
Introduced amidst thunderous applause, Eden Espinosa took to the stage with a confident yet unassuming stride. Starting her first number, Bed for 2 (Eden Espinosa) from her album “Revelation,” there was a sultry and thoughtful quality to her as she captured the audience and drew them in before she thrilled them with her vocal prowess. Espinosa is not just a musical theater master, but a songwriter and rocker with a strong penchant for belting.
Though not at all apparent in her performance, Espinosa admitted that she was a bundle of nerves struggling to work her way back to singing again. As she admitted that she wanted to “fall back in love with it,” and at the moment they were “just starting to see each other again,” she spoke about her tendency for self-sabotage in a way that made her instantly relatable, in a vulnerable yet powerful way. These are qualities she would bring with her to each number she performed in this unscripted and improvised performance.
Her weekly residency at The Green Room 42 is just as the title suggests; “Unplugged & Unscripted.” Most of the songs, I’m told, are chosen the day of, by her and her band; Thad Debrock, guitar; Senfu Stoney, drums; and Max Grossman, piano. Some of the songs were decided during the show. Before the performance the audience was given slips of paper and asked to write the name of a song they’d like her to sing. These slips of paper were chosen from a hat, by her, mid-show. Every week, an entirely new performance. No two shows alike.
She went into her second song of the evening, Nothing Compares To You (Prince) in such a unique and gritty way it felt as if Prince had written the song for her. She made it her own. There was a personal connection between her and the words, and between her and each person in the audience, as if she was speaking directly to you. No pretenses. No false emotion. Just a vulnerable, very real person.
This was quickly followed by You Oughta Know (Alanis Morrissette, Glen Ballard), where she lived each moment in the same raw and guttural way. She related to each word from a place of pain and understanding, and showed great emotional depth. The audience couldn’t contain their screams and cheers as she finished the song.
Espinosa used a Kickstarter campaign to fund her most recent album and her first guest of the evening contributed to that campaign and received the added bonus of getting to perform with her on stage. Jeff O’Neal, a young man, and very talented in his own right, got to live out his dream of singing a duet with Espinosa, The Prayer (David Foster, Carol Bayer Sager, Alberto Testa and Tony Renis). This was a touching moment from the get go, and as he opened his mouth for his first few notes, O’Neal earned his own cheers and adulation.
The second guest was Amber Iman, an actress currently playing opposite Espinosa in a new musical called “Lempicka” (Carson Kreitzer, Matt Gould). The number was highly reminiscent of “Sunday In the Park With George” as artist painted muse and muse anguished comically (and tragically) trying to remain still so as not to ruin the work. A thoughtful and touching moment for the evening, the beautifully written song was highlighted by the powerhouse voices of these two women.
The third and final guest was Tony Award winner Levi Kreis (“Million Dollar Quartet”) who offered Espinosa a respite while he took over the keyboard and performed Faith (George Michael) with Espinosa’s band. The number and singer were pulsing with energy and excitement. Unsure of what he might sing before sitting at the piano, he asked the band to follow along, and the three of them played so well together, it was as if they’d been playing together for years. this was not just a testament of Kreis’ talent, but also the immense agility and ability of Debrock and Stoney.
There were many great moment in the evening as Espinosa sang songs like Clean (Taylor Swift) and The Joke (Brandi Carlile), but the moment that sums up the entire night was during her request section, when she sang Holding to The Ground, (from William Finn, & James Lapine’s “Falsettos”) during the lines “Life is never what you planned. Life is moments you can’t understand.” Espinosa’s thoughtfulness and willingness to go where the journey leads her is one of the many qualities that bring her fans back again and again; including a table of girls who boasted that they’ve seen every performance of Espinosa’s residency and were thrilled when she announced her extension.
Espinosa is a powerhouse and an inspiration. It’s clear why some people go far in this business and this reviewer is excited to see where she will go from here.
You can catch her show at The Green Room 42 on Sunday evenings until March 22nd. You’ll be glad you did.
Photo Credit: Tommy Vance