Andrea Bell Wolff

October 19, 2015 | By | 4 Comments

Andrea Bell WolffSometimes when a show goes wrong, it goes wrong in every way. Sad to say, Andrea Bell Wolff’s “Bad Girls Do Cry,” which is dedicated to the girl-group sounds of the 1960s, is one of those shows—from little things like misspelling the names of Lesley Gore and Carole King (repeatedly) in the song list, to backup singers snapping their fingers away from the microphones so we hear not a crackle, to major things like attitude and tone, which I’ll discuss as we go.

Wolff affects a little girl, Ellen Greene-lite voice that proves more grating than ingratiating. The song selections are the expected ones—which, in itself, would not be bad if they were not performed in the expected ways as well. Even worse, the show too often treats them with derision rather than delight. When a song and style are made fun of in the set-up and delivery, how can an audience be expected to appreciate what made the song a hit in the first place? In its original form, the material might be a bit dated, but the songs retain an abundance of joy and fun and style, none of which is present in this show. Instead, the songs are presented with a wash of loud, relentless musical backing and empty vocals, which render these pop classics virtually indistinguishable one from the other. How much better it would have been for Wolff, her backup singers (Carolee Goodgold, Deb Lyons), and the band to embrace each song with an inventive arrangement and a distinct vocal specific to the stories these songs have to tell, thereby enlivening the tropes of the girl-group sound.

The performance remains in a limbo between parody and tribute, not helped by heavy-handed attempts to inject humor in the proceedings with projected video mash-ups of Wolff with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator leather drag for “Leader of the Pack” (Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry, Shadow Morton), and then, as an inexplicable intro to a trio of Lesley Gore hits, the climactic scene from The Graduate. Both fall flat.

The robotic choreography of derivative girl-group moves might, instead, have, with wit and style, illuminated the lyrics and stories and responded to the undeniably infectious rhythms in fresh ways and given a modern twist to the cliché of those Sixties moves.

One does not normally associate shtick with this material, but in this show it abounds. At one point, the director walks through the house to bring a ringing pink plastic cell phone to the singer to set up the Brenda Lee hit “Break It to Me Gently” (Joe Seneca, Diane Lampert). Under the best of circumstances this hoary device would be questionable, but here it is even worse. Did no one connected with this tribute to the Sixties realize that cell phones didn’t exist then? An old-fashioned black dial-up phone on the piano would have solved this handily. There are even creaky Jewish mother jokes used in a misguided attempt to liven up a pairing of “Mama Said” (Luther Dixon, Willie Densen) and “Shop Around” (Smokey Robinson, Berry Gordy).

The one respite from the onslaught of music is “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” (Carole King, Gerry Goffin) backed by just a lone (if overly busy) piano arrangement. Wolff gives us a glimmer of what might have been, a peek at who she is behind the plastic performance, but she backs away from the intimacy all too soon and abandons the story for bombast. If only she had chosen to let herself inhabit these songs from the inside and made them her own. We get no sense of why she chose to do this material or, indeed, put together this show.

In short, it’s as though the singer and her cohorts were attempting to cash in on the nostalgia and good feelings these songs engender in an audience, without having to earn that response on their own. This is all especially regrettable in that director Dennis Deal and co-writer/co-conceiver/music director Barry Levitt have contributed exemplary work on other projects.

“Bad Girls Do Cry”
Don’t Tell Mama – October 8

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning Monday in the Dark with George and Put On Your Saturday Suit – Words & Music by Jimmy Webb—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs The David Drumgold Variety Show, currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He's taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London's Goldsmith's College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York's performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is currently completing a memoir about his life in the city.

Comments (4)

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  1. Seems Mr.Geddes and I saw a very different show…Here is what I wrote back in August after catching Andrea Wolff at the Iridium…

    Tell Congress and The President that there is no need to drill for more oil in Alaska! No more need for fracking in Ohio or even wind turbines on the Great Plains. Cease all the coal mining in West Virginia! And halt all plans
    for new nuclear power plants! Heck, we can even forget about solar! Because Andrea Wolff, aka Andrea Bell Wolff, is a petite ball of energy that we all just need to plug in to. On Sunday night, her tribute to every girl song from the 50s and 60s, “Bad Girls Do Cry” at “The Iridium” had them on their feet swaying and singing along just like a matinee audience at “Jersey Boys”. It was especially satisfying for me to see how Miss Wolff’s infectious energy has lit up her wonderful director, the fabulous Dennis Deal from my hometown of Kent,Ohio, and someone whose many talents I’ve admired most of my life. Dennis seemed more energized than I have seen him in years. I was so happy to see that he obviously enjoys harnessing all the energy that is that Doo-Wop Warbling Diva. So bad girls do indeed cry! And if you cry “Wolff!”, Andrea is gonna turn on the power!

  2. Susan Jeffries says:

    I don’t make a habit of reading reviews, much less comment on them, but I saw “Bad Girls Do Cry” at the Iridium last summer and had a very different experience from the one described here, so I want to share it. I grew up with the girl groups of the 60’s and it is a genre near to my heart so I went to the show with high expectations. Also, I had been to one of Andrea Bell Wolff’s shows before and went knowing she could sing beautifully and has great comedic skill and a command of the stage that only comes from experience and hard work. All I can say is she presented us with a show that for me (and if one can judge by the standing ovation and cheers at the end ) for everyone there an evening of pure delight – it is a wonderful mixture of tribute to the girl groups of the 60’s and an hilarious “send-up” of the genre with the use of mulit-media. The band was rockin’ and the story told by the interpretation of the material both moving and great fun!

  3. Stephanie Tyson says:

    Oh What a night!! Fun, fun and more fun. What else can I say about this show. I have more of an appreciation for the music of the 60s since seeing “Big Girls Do Cry” at the Iridium. Andrea Bell Wolff is a spit fire of talent and her vocal adrenaline is incredible. Her backup singers were wonderful. They worked so well with her and the comedic timing with Ms. Wolff was hysterical. The musical arrangements were fabulous and the musicians were rocking it. I would have loved to have joined Ms. Wolff and her back up singers on stage. My husband absolutely loved the show too.

    Did this Mr. Geddes even see the show?

  4. Robbin F says:

    I am totally shocked to read the review that Gerry Geddess felt compelled to write. I saw Andrea Bell Wolff’s performance of “Bad Girls Do Cry” as well as several other past performances both in New York and other cities in the tri state area. Andrea is a fire-cracker, and the audience consistently falls in love with her from the minute she walks on the stage. This particular show was no different than her other successes. Andrea has the whole package – stage presence, timing, a larger-than-life melodic voice, and always knows how to draw the audience in with her engaging talent and comedic force. Mostly everyone in the audience was either dancing in their seats or up dancing by their tables. The applause was thunderous and standing ovations are always a given at Andrea’s shows. Andrea’s creativity and interpretation of her material is magical, and the musicians and back-up singers are the icing on the cake. Mr. Geddess’ review is obviously subjective, but it’s hard to believe that anyone in the audience would share his opinion at this show or any of her other shows. Bravo Andrea! Keep doing what you’re doing. Your talent is a blessing to us all…

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