A few years ago, Molly Pope cast off the hard-edged bitch-diva persona that had made her the darling of camp followers, and allowed us to see the person underneath. The form she chose then was a scripted, theatrically stylized presentation of her experiences breaking into show business; it was both a welcome development and a splendid show. With “Molly Pope Likes Your Status,” her new offering at The Duplex, she has taken this transformation a step further. Instead of playing the part of the actual Molly Pope, she is now actually being Molly Pope. Which is a very good thing to be: charming, funny, intelligent, quick-witted, polished—even kind of regal (yes!) yet from time to time delightfully off-the-wall—and on top of all that, a singer with a potent, vibrato-colored alto and strong interpretive skills.
The musical selections are an eclectic lot from the worlds of standards, pop, theatre, operetta, and film. Her winning rendition of Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher’s “Can You Picture That?” is mercurial, with lightning-fast changes in attitude; every now and then she allows an enchanting smile to cross her face. She’s chosen to present Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Poor Jud Is Daid” as a reading by a preacher, with interjected pronouncements on the perils and disillusionment of men and dating (which is the general theme of the evening); an inspired choice and a striking performance.
She delivers a fervent rendition of Ray Davies’s “Lola,” and on “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me” (Al Dubin, Harry Warren) she dances with the unconventional object of her affection and makes very funny spontaneous comments. She brings a panoply of emotions to a pairing of Sondheim songs: “Now You Know” (fierce disillusionment) into “Not a Day Goes By” (rueful at first, quickly growing to ferocious anger, then bitterness, and finally, regret again).
There’s a touch of artifice still to be shed from a couple of numbers. She sings “My Ideal” (Leo Robin, Richard A. Whiting, Newell Chase) straight and very well—until towards the end, when she interrupts the song for some extraneous shtick. She should trust, not undermine, the emotional honesty of her interpretation. She uses a prop on Noël Coward’s “If Love Were All”; it’s distracting. What’s more, she doesn’t need it, for rarely have I seen so intimate a connection between singer and song; I had the feeling that she was singing about her own life and we were witnessing a moment of private reflection and revelation. The effect and impact were extraordinary; by the end of the number, she, and we, were devastated. I suggest she bring herself and us up—just a little—by singing the seldom done final verse (the one that begins “Though life buffets me obscenely/ It serenely/ Goes on”). Finally, I suspect she may have taken the lyrics to the truncated version she sings from Judy Garland’s Carnegie Hall concert; unfortunately, they’re not quite correct.
For the past few performances, the excellent Jeffrey Klitz has been doing the piano honors, subbing for Pope’s original musical director, Brian J. Nash. The rapport between Klitz and the singer seems quite genuine.
Non-musical moments include a hilarious send-up of desperate aspiring actors and actresses, including some good-humored self-mockery, and a smashing bit of business with a volunteer from the audience. The latter could easily have come across as presumptuous or even outrageously intrusive—except that she sets it up masterfully, and throughout the bit, she’s so good-natured and appealing.
I neglected to say that a good deal of the show positively beams with joy. It does.
“Molly Pope Likes Your Status”
The Duplex – March 13, April 10, May 8, June 12, July 10, August 14, September 11