Written by Roy Sander
"Once in Love with Amy"
Metropolitan Room - February 2, 24, March 2, 23
Amy Beth Williams made a very strong impression competing in the 2010 MetroStar Talent Challenge, where she was one of the two runners-up. Her bearing was regal (an adjective I don't think I've had occasion to use since I last saw Mabel Mercer), she performed with grace, poise and assurance and was able to express powerful emotions with not a trace of flamboyance—a rare ability—and withal she was warm, charming, and appealing. For a singer, she displayed extraordinary acting ability: her choices were so specific and meticulous that in less deft hands they might have appeared mannered or actory, but with her they were natural extensions of her interpretations and always apposite. And for an actress, she sang remarkably well, displaying a rich, lovely soprano.
Convert the preceding paragraph to the present tense and you have a description of her work in the show she's currently doing at the Metropolitan Room. To that, add that she has drawn from a diversity of sources to create a set list that should make even the most jaded cabaret-goer (or critic) eager with anticipation.
The first three songs deal with lost love. "I'm All Right" (Madeleine Peyroux, Larry Klein, Walter Becker) is an almost whimsical piece that treats the singer's plight with cheerful sanguinity, whereas Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane's "Come Back to Me" is an urgent request that the lover return. And in Jeffrey Harris and Judy Barron's "Why Can't I Forget?," Williams's phrasing, facial expressions and gestures work in harmony to form an understated but palpable expression of pain.
The evening includes selections from a couple of musicals less travelled: from Follow the Girls, the jaunty "I Wanna Get Married" (Phil Charig, Milton Pascal, Dan Shapiro); from Ruthless, "Teaching Third Grade" (Marvin Laird, Joel Paley). What a marvelous performance piece the latter song is, and how marvelously Williams performs it. There are also first-rate songs by writers prominent on the current cabaret scene: "Not a Cloud in the Sky" by John Bucchino and "Never Try On His Name" by Francesca Blumenthal and Daryl Kojak.
Williams's interpretation of Édith Piaf and Marguerite Monnot's "Hymne à l'amour" has more heart than the bigger renditions many singers are wont to regale us with, and with her lush vocal riding smoothly on top of a rhythmic Latin orchestration, a pairing of Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne's "I Fall in Love Too Easily" and Ned Washington and Victor Young's "My Foolish Heart" feels fresh, even though we've heard these songs countless times before. And her beautifully considered line readings make Sondheim's thrice-familiar "I Never Do Anything Twice" entertaining once again.
The very dark "Tango," which Lieber and Stoller wrote about the murder of film star Ramón Novarro, and "The Answer," John Wallowitch's beautiful, brooding waltz about disappointment and disillusionment, are followed by two rather more uplifting songs: Pink and Billy Mann's "Glitter in the Air," about appreciating and celebrating life, and Lance Horne's "Last Day on Earth," about embracing life and living it. Four exceptional songs, all given renditions worthy of them.
The arrangements by musical director Daryl Kojak make an invaluable contribution to the show, as does the masterful playing of Kojak on piano, Ritt Henn on bass, Rex Benincasa on percussion, and John Henry Wiiliams on violin. The instrumental accompaniment is as elegant and eloquent as Amy Beth Williams's performance.
I grant that it would be premature to label Williams a great cabaret artist on the basis of this one show; let's see what the future brings.