In an age of big splashy music-based reality contest shows, concerts as multimedia extravaganzas, technically-altered recordings, and TV shows manufactured around large musical ensembles, it’s a delight to listen to a single, gifted vocalist in an small, intimate venue. Signature Theatre’s ‘Sizzlin’ Summer Cabarets’ offers a great collection of just such shows to enjoy throughout the month of July.
As part of the series, local favorite Sandy Bainum returned to the Signature stage with her latest show, Sandy Bainum: Something to Sing About. Billed as a “celebration of positivity, featuring songs that are entertaining, engaging and ultimately uplifting,” the singer delivered brightness and enthusiasm right from the opening notes of “A Cockeyed Optimist” (South Pacific) to her closing “I Can’t Be Bothered Now” (George and Ira Gershwin). Her powerful yet sweet soprano voice matched her sassy, sentimental, and upbeat personality. The evening took us on a journey through her life from a small-town eight-year old singing in her closet to her Broadway role as Annie in 42nd Street to her current roles as wife, mother, and performer.
Her voice successfully covers a wide range of both well-known and more obscure songs including Stephen Schwartz’s “Lion Tamer, “Something to Sing About” by Dave Brubeck and Garson Kanin, Stephen Sondheim’s “Everybody Says Don’t,” and “Pink Taffeta Sample Size 10,” the finale in Bainum’s salute to prolific lyricist Dorothy Fields. Sandy’s terrific enunciation and clear tones make it easy to understand and appreciate an unfamiliar tune.
There is no other way to say it: Sandy sparkles on stage. She looks terrific (the dress, jewelry, and shoes are perfect) and she can’t seem to stop smiling as she glides across the stage. The singer’s performance was expertly accompanied by bassist Jay Leonhart and the lush piano arrangements of Music Director Lanny Meyers. The show is directed by Bruce Kimmel.
I found Ms. Bainum at her best, however, when she tones down the sparkle, rests on a stool, sings a ballad and her voice becomes the center of attention. Irving Berlin’s “Nothing More to Say” was, to me, the most sincere, honest moment of the evening. Cabaret requires an intimacy both in physical space and between performer and audience. Unfortunately, she didn’t have a strong connection with the audience and much of Bainum’s sharing about her past seemed trite, overly rehearsed and designed to connect the songs rather than give the audience an authentic view of her life. She introduced her medley of John Sebastian and The Lovin’ Spoonful songs (including “Do You Believe in Magic”, “Daydream”, and “Welcome Back”, yes, the Welcome Back Kotter theme song) by telling us that she doesn’t like feeling blue and when she was growing up, Sebastian and The Lovin’ Spoonful could always improve her mood. The medley was definitely peppy and I’m sure many in the audience, like me, wanted to sing along but the songs seemed a mismatch with the rest of the show.
Some tips for attending Signature’s summer cabaret programs: plan to arrive early. If last night was any indication, an arrival less than 15 minutes prior to the start of show along with the configuration of the room and general admission seating means you may not all be able to be seated together – and you will most certainly have to scramble over others to get to an empty seat. Food and beverages are available in the lobby but I would suggest sending someone in to get seats while sending someone else to get the drinks and treats. Once you’re at your seat, it may be difficult to get back out.
Bainum’s show was sold out and there was certainly a mix in the age of the audience. I hope this bodes well for the continuing presentation of cabaret at Signature Theatre and in the region.
Running Time: 75 minutes.
Signature Theatre’s Sizzlin’ Summer Cabarets continues through July 28 at the Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, Virginia 22206. For the slate of upcoming performers and to purchase tickets, check the website or call (703) 820-9771.
Sandy Bainum’s website.