Lauren Stanford

July 26, 2014 | By | Add a Comment

Lauren StanfordWhen Lauren Stanford competed in last year’s MetroStar Talent Challenge, she seemed to flower as the weeks progressed: the range and depth of her skills became more and more evident, and she grew increasingly impressive. Though she appeared almost plain at the outset, she bloomed and we could see that she was actually quite lovely. Her voice, at first attractive but relatively small, was shown also to be capable of a strong, true, sustained belt. And most significant, her interpretations became remarkably powerful as she explored nuance and revealed a perceptive, empathetic understanding of character. She won the competition.

Her prize was the show currently on view at the Metropolitan Room, titled “I’m a Stranger Here Myself” and directed by Eric Michael Gillett; accompaniment is provided by musical director Mike Pettry on piano, Jacob Silver on bass, and Jonathan Kantor on reeds. It is built around a throughline of leaving one’s birthplace to pursue a life and career in New York. Accordingly, the evening opens with “Not for the Life of Me,” which revels in leaving small-town life, and closes with “Only in New York,” an encomium to this city, both songs from Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan’s score to Thoroughly Modern Millie. While Stanford makes occasional references to notable performers who have made that journey, the patter is largely autobiographical.

Though the theme may be conventional, it provides her the opportunity to display her uncommon talent. For example, with Dar Williams’s “When I Was a Boy,” I’ve not heard anyone else convey the same clarity of character and profound appreciation of the attendant social and psychological influences that Stanford brings to the song. With her moving interpretation of John Mayer and Pino Palladino’s “Stop This Train,” she makes palpable the pain that comes with acknowledging the inevitability of aging. On “The Life I Never Led” (Alan Menken, Glenn Slater), she emerges from a shell before our eyes just as the character in the song embraces a life of daring to take chances. And she demonstrates a sure hand at comedy as she throws herself into Jason Robert Brown’s “Summer in Ohio” and makes every line land.

However, the evening does not always do full justice to the material or show us all that Stanford is capable of. For example, with two selections early in the proceedings, she delivers interpretations that seem to have been tailored to suit the storyline of the show, but ignore key elements of the songs. Her rendition of “Disneyland” (Marvin Hamlisch, Howard Ashman) glows with optimism and promise, but missing is the poignancy. Sondheim’s “Another Hundred People” is here a celebration of New York—absent is the edge; except for one fleeting glimpse of sadness, everything is cheerful and positive and exciting. Though she performs these limited, ad hoc interpretations with considerable skill, there is so much more she could have done with the songs.

Uncharacteristically, her delivery of Tom Waits’s “Rainbow Sleeves” gets too big and shrill; it wants more contours and contrasts. The song segues to Arthur Hamilton’s “Sing a Rainbow,” which she does very sweetly; however, coming on the heels of the Waits, it is anti-climactic.

At one point in the show Stanford calls up as guest artist Kathleen Stuart, a talented semi-finalist in the 2013 MetroStar competition, who, singing and playing the ukulele, joins her on a three-song medley. Whatever the artistic merits of this segment, having a guest performer under these particular circumstances is a mistake: one of the key benefits of the MetroStar grand prize show is the opportunity for the winner to showcase his or her talent for an hour; why dilute that?

Finally, there are a few problems with her use of pauses—at least there were at the performance I attended. In Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash’s “I’m a Stranger Here Myself,” in the line “With my face between his hands,” she inserted a fairly long pause after “his”—a cheap double-entendre. On two other occasions she inserted pauses that for no valid reason called attention to the words that followed. And while with “Bill” (Jerome Kern, P.G. Wodehouse, Oscar Hammerstein II), some sort of pause is required between “because he’s” and “I don’t know,” the pause she opted for was too long, thereby making us aware of the acting choice (though otherwise she acts the song very well). I’ve gone into such detail on what might seem a small point because the misuse of pauses is such a common problem—and because with Stanford’s high level of artistry, there’s no reason her performance shouldn’t be flawless.

“I’m a Stranger Here Myself”
Metropolitan Room  –  June 3, 15, July 18, August 1

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Roy Sander has been covering cabaret and theatre for thirty years. He’s written cabaret and theatre reviews, features, and commentary for seven print publications, most notably Back Stage, and for CitySearch on the Internet. He covered cabaret monthly on “New York Theatre Review” on PBS TV, and cabaret and theatre weekly on WLIM-FM radio. He was twice a guest instructor at the London School of Musical Theatre. A critic for BistroAwards.com, he is also the site’s Reviews Editor; in addition, he is Chairman of the Advisory Board of MAC.

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