Andrea Axelrod

June 20, 2019 | By | Add a Comment

For every “We’ll love each other madly forever” anthem, it seems that there are at least a couple of “Waaah!—we’re through” songs. At Don’t Tell Mama, the talented Andrea Axelrod investigates the latter category in After the Bawl (Recovery from Hearthache), with musical director John Cook at the piano. I’m mentioning Cook at the outset because he does a lot more than just accompany the singer here. His contributions include co-writing one number, chiming in with his own spoken and sung remarks now and again, and participating in a duet that is one of the happiest surprises of the evening.

Axelrod doesn’t limit herself here simply to torchy he-done-me-wrong songs, although some numbers she sings would fall into that category. Early on, she describes herself as the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross of romantic break-up songs, and she clearly has a sort of “stages of recovery” conceit in mind. For instance, early in the program, she distinctly tags the “anger” phase of romantic malaise. Toward the end of the performance, though, her analogy to Kübler-Ross’s “stages of grief” tapered off. For future shows, she might consider reinforcing the theme a bit more with her spoken narrative.

She certainly includes a wide range of emotional responses to romantic failure in the show: songs of despair, vengeance, “good-riddance” glee, and nostalgic reverie. She opens the program with a steely-voiced straight-ahead cri de coeur: Arlen and Mercer’s “I Had Myself a True Love.” She then segues into a rousing version of Sondheim’s pragmatic determination to heal, Merrily We Roll Along’s “Now You Know.”

I’ve seen previous Axelrod shows but have never been as pleased with what she does vocally as I was with this one. The vibrant colors of her musical palette are among the most varied of any cabaret singer I know. In fact, she has a slightly different vocal character for nearly every song: sometimes enlisting a legit, operetta-ready sound, sometimes staying quietly plaintive, sometimes blowing things sky high with a Mermanesque boom. And in Fats Walter and Clarence Williams’s randy, squeal-filled “Squeeze Me,” she sounds as though she were the headliner in a floor show at a Harlem brothel a century ago. Whether the song’s inclusion verges on cultural appropriation is debatable, but her performance is as appealing as it is audacious.

Extra points to her for not counting on too many tried-and-true selections to fill out her program. Yes, there are a few familiar songs on the itinerary—including Noël Coward’s “Sail Away” and her encore number, a give-love-one-more-chance, boogie-woogie take on Rodgers and Hart’s “I Wish I Were in Love Again.” But most titles in the program are not widely known. Among them are Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke’s “Sleighride in July” and Irving Berlin’s “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun.” The aforementioned composition by Cook, “I’d Like to….” (lyric by Michael Colby) is a “revenge rhumba.” If you’re wondering what it is, exactly, that the singer would “like to…,” suffice it so say that, in addition to alluding to John Gotti and Kristin Chenoweth, Colby’s lyric also references Lorena Bobbitt. While the song may not have a life outside this show, it’s got a good dose of cleverness and is worth hearing.

Earlier, I mentioned a first-rate duet between Axelrod and Cook. It’s Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin’s “Thanks for the Memory,” and it is exceptionally well acted. The two performers are charming as a long-separated reminiscing couple who are not only newly appreciative of each other’s good qualities but also willing to push each other’s buttons over the not-so-good ones. The nuanced wit in the number is delectable, and it made me wonder what it would be like to see a show in which these two music-makers interacted at even greater length.

After the Bawl (Recovery from Heartache)
Don’t Tell Mama  –  June 9, 14, September 8, 13

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. In addition to reviewing for BistroAwards.com, he contributes regularly to theaterscene.net and clydefitchreport.com. Other reviews and articles have appeared in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

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