Photo Credit: D. Sabella

Gretchen Reinhagen
Special Kaye
Jan 28, 2020, 7PM

Gretchen Reinhagan presented, “Special Kaye,” her tribute show to the great Kaye Ballard at Pangea, in an evening that proved to be entertaining, educational, and mesmerizing.

The craft of a tribute show is a tricky one, finding that delicate balance between honoring the intended artist, while remaining authentic to oneself is no easy task. However, in such skillful hands as Reinhagen’s, it looked easy.

This show was a pared-down version of a larger two act show that Reinhagen presented at the Annenberg theater in Palm Springs, California, with Kaye Ballard herself in the audience. As if that performance were not daunting enough, this evening’s audience was no less star studded, including cabaret legend, and close friend of Ballard’s, Sandy Stewart, who sat enraptured for the entire performance, and she was not alone.

Director Barry Kleinbort crafted the show well, highlighting Ballard’s sense of humor, through the special material that was written for her, some of it by Kleinbort himself, the Broadway repertoire most associated with her, and some hidden gems, all while showcasing Reinhagen’s own substantial talent.

“I’m Here,” written by Kleinbort opened the show effectively, and was soon followed by two specialty numbers “Teeny Tiny” (Marshall Barer & Kaye Ballard), and “Name Dropping” (Dale Gonyea). This gave Reinhagen a chance to show off impressive comic chops before assailing more complex Broadway repertoire, including “Broadway Baby” (Sondheim), “Be With Me” (Marc Blitzstein), Take off the Coat (Harold Rome), and “If” (If you hadn’t, but you did) by Comden, Green, and Styne. This section was both entertaining and informative, illustrating some lesser-known facts about Kaye Ballard’s life and career.

Midway through the evening, however, something happened, something miraculous that caused every molecule in the room changed. Starting with “Love Makes The World Go Round” (Bob Merrill), and continuing through “Lazy Afternoon” (John Latouche and Jerome Moross) The room fell silent, and one could hear a pin drop, as Reinhagen so completely inhabited both the spirit of the song and her homage to Ballard that it was hard to tell them apart. This is a kind of magic that does not happen often on any stage and it was breathtaking.

Breaking the spell with “Stepsister’s Lament,” (Rodgers and Hammerstein, and sung with Music Director Tracy Stark who was pinch-hitting for David Gains), and Sara Lee (Kander and Ebb), Reinhagen showed not only her own versatility, but also the virtuosity of Kaye Ballard’s humor.

Two Kander and Ebb songs “My Coloring Book,”championed by Ballard, yet ultimately first sung by Sandy Stewart; and “Maybe This time,” originally intended as a specialty number for Ballard, revealed multi-layers (and key changes), breathing fresh air into these well-known songs.

Director Barry Kleinbort took the stage with Reinhagen to reprise a little sketch comedy by Vince Guaraldi, titled Charlie Brown. The segment was both adorable and historical, harkening back to a time in cabaret where sketch comedy was just as important and featured as the singer. Reinhagen also displayed instrumental finesse as she played the flute in a duet with Kleinbort, “I Wanna be Yours” (Carolyn Leigh and Cy Coleman).

Although the show is a tour dé force for Reinhagen, she remained understated and in service to her idol, paying tribute to Kaye Ballard with both her body of work and laser-like focus. Hopefully this show will reprise again soon. Be on the lookout for it!