Photo Credit: Tommy Vance
Wendy Kaufman Harper
Stay On The Ride
Don’t Tell Mama’s 5/10/19
Three blocks into my 20 minute walk to Don’t Tell Mama’s, where I was going to see Wendy Kaufman Harper’s one woman show “Stay On The Ride”, it began pouring rain. I did not have an umbrella and the rain did not let up until I was only a few blocks from the venue. The rain stopped, the clouds opened up and a single beam of sunshine broke through and shone down. One more block and I noticed a rainbow had formed. I stopped to admire and as I was standing there, the ray of light warmed me. Even brought a smile to my face. And that rainbow reminded me of the beauty that exists even when we can’t always see it. In retrospect, my trip to Mama’s that evening was the perfect metaphor for the show I was about to see. There were some rainy moments, but Harper was a ray of light and her show was a beautiful rainbow colored reminder of why we walk on through the storm.
As she made her entrance for her opening number, she brought a joyful energy and the room reacted instantly to the change. Admittedly, I was a bit underwhelmed as she began singing Every Day Is A Winding Road (Sheryl Crow), but as she eased into the song and her confidence grew, so too did her voice. Although, her second song was also a bit of a miss for me as I couldn’t understand every word she was saying.
It wasn’t until she began speaking to us directly that I started to get a feel for who she was. A self described cross between Wednesday Addams and Ally Sheedy in the Breakfast Club. A therapist who insists she has no sense of humor, although I quite disagree. Her topics of conversation varied through the evening from Southern hypocrisy to Crohn’s disease, with a very clever, fake infomercial on the subject. She exposed herself as a woman who has been changed by the world she’s lived in but learned and grew from each bump in the road, and wanted to impart some of her life lessons to us. Particularly in a four song arc where she took the time to explain to us the four most valuable lessons she’s learned; self awareness, taking responsibility for your actions, trusting in faith and letting go.
The first of the four, The Visitors (Benny Anderson, Bjorn Ulvaeus), once again gave her the opportunity to show her funny side and ability to create a character with some particularly good vocal skills.
The second song of the group, Misery and Happiness (Susan Werner), was a great metaphor and a very powerful story. Harper delivered it extremely well. Her nerves were gone. Her voice was clear and strong and I was taken aback. She absolutely shined! This was her star moment. She stopped the show and the audience’s applause kept going on and on to let her know.
She followed that quickly with a thoughtful rendition of Say a Little Prayer (Burt Bacharach, Hal David) and finished the arc with another powerful song called Land of Hope and Dreams (Bruce Springsteen). She had been building to this moment and she did not disappoint. All memory of an earlier rain had been erased. A ray of sunlight had come down and a beautiful rainbow had appeared.
Credit, of course, must be given to her exceedingly competent musical director and arranger Rick Jensen. And her director, Lena Koutrakos. This was the second show in as many weeks that I had seen directed by Koutrakos and it’s clear to me that she has quite an eye for building a night and a set list of songs that complement and organically flow off each other.
To end the evening, Harper closed with the title song Stay On The Ride (Patty Griffen). The song itself was a bit unusual and there wasn’t much of a discernible plot, but the point seemed clear; “Feel good. Enjoy the ride!”