Review By Guest Contributor: Thomas Mills
Photo Credits: Maryann Lopinto
She Loves… Sheldon!
Laurie Beechman Theater
Jan 30 & Feb 5, 2019 – 7PM
When Jennifer Roberts takes the stage, you are struck with several thoughts. One: this is a lady who belongs onstage. It is her comfort arena. She is relaxed, confident and immediately puts the audience at ease. Two: when she opens her mouth, you’re enveloped in a glorious voice. A voice that can go anywhere she needs or wants to go. The sound is at once rich & sweet, exciting & warm. Three: She has put together a show that is going to take you on a journey that is poignant, a wonderful journey filled with both known and obscure material. An evening celebrating the lyrics of Sheldon Harnick.
Roberts gives us rousing renditions of such classics as She Loves Me, Miracle of Miracles, and Vanilla Ice Cream (all music by J. Bock unless otherwise noted) helped along by the joyful and jazzy arrangements of Tedd Firth and supported by the cool stylings of Phil Palombi. On display was also Mr. Harnick’s dry wit with of Garbage (music by Sheldon Harnick) and Somebody’s Been Sending Me Flowers (music by D. Baker). Proving that Sheldon Harnick has a keen ear not only for character and tone but for comedy as well.
There were also songs of great poignancy with That’s How Much I Missed You and Where Do I Go From Here? In both these songs Roberts’ ability as an artist is on full display. She not only feels these characters, she brings them to life and makes them her own. We don’t feel as if we’re seeing a performance but a raw, vulnerable woman who is sharing her pain and pathos with a hushed and grateful audience. However, this leads me to my one criticism of the evening. These moments of full lyric connection were few. Not that the whole evening should have been a torch-fest, but throughout the night she referred to the great writings of Sheldon Harnick and what a legendary lyricist he is (which of course is true) yet for much of the evening I struggled trying to focus on his wonderful words. In many or Roberts’ interpretations it was the music that was front and center not the lyrics.
Now, I must qualify my criticism by sharing the fact that Mr. Harnick was in fact in attendance at this performance. So, I’m sure there were nerves aplenty, having to perform in front of the esteemed gentleman himself (although Roberts never let us see them). She was always poised and professional. Maybe if it weren’t for the keen interpretations of That’s How Much I Missed You, Where Do I Go From Here? (and my personal favorite of the evening) the rousing, yet heartfelt One Family/In My Own Lifetime (music by M. Legrand/J. Bock), I would have been satisfied with the rest of the evening. But having once glimpsed what Roberts can do with a deep sense of lyric connection, it’s hard not to lament the moments when that is not as evident.
As stated previously, Roberts has a truly stunning voice. The arrangements were lush and lustrous and Lance Roberts’ direction kept the show moving and interesting. However, cabaret is an art form that requires using the lyric to transport us, to take us on an emotional journey whether joyous, outrageous, funny or sad. Roberts is certainly capable of doing just that, but on this evening, often let the music take the lead, instead of the words of one of the masters: Sheldon Harnick.