Last night, Sandy Bainum was added to the long list of artists performing solo cabarets as part of Signature Theatre’s annual event, Sizzlin’ Summer Cabaret. For a two and a half week period, Signature Theatre invites audience members to witness talented artists who have performed not only at Signature Theatre, but also at other venues, including The Kennedy Center and Broadway. Based on what I witnessed through Bainum’s performance, I am bummed I did not know about the her previous appearances because I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish.
Bainum’s performance focused on songs by Ira Gershwin, and others who collaborated with him. Along with performing songs like “The Man Got Away,” “How Long Has This Been Going On?” and the famous “I’ve Got Rhythm,” Bainum would provide short introductions to the numbers including their history, Gershwin’s collaborators, and little anecdotes about her relationship with the song. For example, after she performed her opening number, “Kickin’ the Clouds Away,” she explained how this one of Gershwin’s songs that had changed her view towards love forever, and became a part of her.
The inclusion of Gershwin history was immensely helpful in keeping me informed on a subject about which I knew little. However, the anecdotes took the show a step further. They added a personal feel to the performance, which not only made the show more enjoyable, but also created less of a lecture sensation, and more of a friendly conversation between Bainum and the audience.
Typically when I watch a cabaret such as this, I solely focus on the singer. However, the band, led by Bainum’s Emmy Award-winning Musical Director Lanny Meyers, showcased such incredible talent, that I could not help but notice them. As they bopped along to the Gershwin classics I could see their enjoyment and had even more fun watching the performance.
The set list as a whole was built beautifully. There was an even mix between upbeat and slower songs and ballas, which helped keep the energy high and created a good pace for the performance, but also allowed me to appreciate Bainum’s impeccable vocal quality and range.
However, there were a few songs in particular that caught my attention. Bainum’s rendition of “Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians)” was hilarious. Her comedic timing was spot on as she acted out each of the Russian words, but what blew me away was her perfect diction with such a difficult and fast paced song. While Bainum clearly had comedic acting down, she also showcased her ability to tackle a darker piece through her beautiful rendition of “The Man that Got Away.” Her vocal quality was stunning, but her acting pushed the song over the top. Her emotional connection to the song left me entranced as she carried me from note to note. Finally, though I had heard the song multiple times before, Bainum’s rendition of “I’ve Got Rhythm” left me speechless. Her passion shone through as she danced along to the beat and made the famous piece her own.
Though her singing was flawless, what truly made the production so memorable was Bainum’s stage presence. From the moment she entered the stage sporting a fluffy pink dress with killer heels, I knew I was in for a treat. From the top of the show, Bainum eliminated the fourth wall and through her jokes and personal anecdotes, she created the sense that the audience was part of the show. For each piece, she found a new way to connect with the audience members, whether it was flirting with the audience during the upbeat love songs, or joking with them during the comedic numbers. I was amazed at her constant high energy for the entire performance and when she announced that “I’ve Got Rhythm” was to be the final number, I actually found myself hoping for an encore.
Because the focus was on Bainum and the music, there was little to the set, but her costume choice was fantastic. The fluffy pink dress with killer heels seemed a bit over the top at the beginning, but it quickly became clear that the choice would compliment the show perfectly. Bainum would flirt with the audience as she sang about love through the Gershwin music, and the fun costume ensemble successfully set up the audience for this kind of show.
Gorgeous singing and incredible humor made for a night to remember. Sandy Bainum’s stellar ability to educate the audience on Gershwin while providing an entertaining performance left me wanting more. I look forward to seeing what future productions Signature Theatre’s Sizzlin’ Summer Cabarets has to offer.
Sandy Bainum’s S’Wonderful, A Night of Ira Gershwin was performed for one-night-only on Tuesday August 13, 2013 at Signature Theatre’s Sizzlin’ Summer Cabarets – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, VA. For tickets to the remaining performances of Sizzlin’ Summer Cabarets, call (703) 820-9771, or purchase them online.
Sandy Bainum’s website.