Off Broadway Theater Review: THE GIRL I LEFT BEHIND ME (59E59 Theaters)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on May 4, 2013

in Theater-New York

THE RIGHT GIRL IN THE WRONG VENUE

Created by Neil Bartlett and Jessica Walker, The Girl I Left Behind Me – which is part of the Brits Off Broadway festival – is a tribute to British and American male Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of THE GIRL I LEFT BEHIND ME, Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters.impersonators of decades past, in which Ms. Walker, dressed in tails and switching out hats and other little props – cigarettes, cigars, pipes, whiskey – as needed, sings songs those women were famous for, in between telling us anecdotes from the performers’ lives.

Ms. Walker, a mezzo soprano, possesses a beautiful, opera-caliber singing voice (she started out as a mainstream opera singer) and her renditions are lovely. She also has a very sympathetic and charismatic stage presence; watching her one gets the sense that she’s truly giving us everything of herself. And yet the show, as staged at 59E59 Theaters, doesn’t altogether work, and the problem lies with the venue, both in the physical and the metaphysical sense.

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of THE GIRL I LEFT BEHIND ME, Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters.Ms. Walker shares the tiny stage with her accompanist (and music director) Joe Atkins and his grand piano, which leaves too little space for her in which to perform. As a result some of her gestures feel a bit stifled and self-conscious. With the audience sitting in chairs around little tables which have candles on them, The Girl is designed to feel like a cabaret nightclub act. Yet little is done to further this illusion, so that ultimately what we are watching is not a theatrical invention of a cabaret act but a cabaret act performed in a theater, only without table service. The result doesn’t feel quite right.

There’s nothing dramatic in this show and we are never required to suspend our disbelief. Ms. Walker isn’t playing a dramatic character, she’s basically covering old songs and telling us about the women who sang them. Many of these stories are interesting, some are thought-provoking, a few are moving, but they do not amount Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of THE GIRL I LEFT BEHIND ME, Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters.to theater. Ms. Walker does a number of characterizations: An especially delightful one is of Johnny – as performed by a male impersonator – who starts out as a seventeen-year-old boy in one song and several songs later is an old man. Yet when she sings “Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home,” which was sung by a “six foot cross-dressing cabaret queen and out bull-dagger Gladys Bentley,” she makes no attempt to sound like a big fat black 1930’s blues singer from Harlem. The logic behind these decisions – mimicking some of her subjects but not others – feels inconsistent.

Possessing a warm and inviting aura as well as talents and abilities as both singer and performer that are indisputable, Ms. Walker is a pleasure. And The Girl, performed as a straight cabaret piece in the appropriate setting, can surely be an entertaining and satisfying experience for fans of the genre. It’s just not quite theater.

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of THE GIRL I LEFT BEHIND ME, Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters.

photos by Carol Rosegg

The Girl I Left Behind Me
Brits Off Broadway
Jess Walker Music Theater at 59E59 Theaters
scheduled to end on May 19, 2013
for tickets, call (212) 753-5959 x101 or visit http://www.59e59.org

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