Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Diva Weekend"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Beverly Creasey

Diva Weekend at The Cambridge Center

by Beverly Creasey

Cabaret is enjoying a renaissence in Boston right now and the Cambridge Cebter for Adult Ed is a big part of this rediscovery. "Cabaret" is a term encompassing anything from the traditional German style to acid jazz. Most cabaret performances included standards by Gershwin, Sondheim, or Kander & Ebb; although Melinda Stanford does a few songs from this usual repertoire, she mostly performs her own work.

If you missed Stanford as part of the DIVA WEEKEND at the Cambridge Center, don't despair. She'll be back. And if you missed the whole weekend, call the Cambridge Center for a schedule of upcoming performances. You have the next three months to catch up.

Melinda Stanford writes in every vein from blues to ballads. She's even set poetry like Robert Frost's "Reluctance" to music. Once you hear her gorgeous, bittersweet setting you'll be convinced his words and this music belong together.

She also collaborates with her brother-in-law, Brian Crawford on jazzy compositions like "Shadows And Bars" --- a mournful paean to hard hearts, with beautifully sardonic lyrics like "another studied ceiling..." --- or on frisky blues numbers like "Sweet Briar Rose" which cheekily rhymes "poet" with "moet"!

In addition to her skills as a songwriter, Stanford can deliver songs we associate exclusively with someone else and make them her own. She flies in the face of conventional wisdom not once but twice in her Cambridge Center program, tackling Judy Garland classics like "Halleluia Come On Get Happy" and "Somewhere Over The Rainbow"; where Garland embraced urgency, Stanford celebrates the joy in Harold Arlen's music.

She is a winning performer with a way of inhabiting a lyric. Her sweet demeanor gives her an easy rapport with the audience --- so it comes as a bit of a shock when she launches into her darker material. She seems to have a direct line to intense heartache, something completely at odds with her fresh-faced exterior. Her exquisite delivery of Kander & Ebb's "Coloring Book" ("Color him gone...") had everyone searching their pockets for tissues.

The plaintive ballad "Waitress Shoes", about dreams delayed, should soon become a standard on the cabaret circuit, and her ode on a friend's suicide-attempt captures desperation so acutely that you feel the pain in your own bones. What makes Stanford the performer a force to be reconed with is her ability to infuse each song with a characterization --- something which can lift cabaret from an evening of songs to an evening of theater.

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide