By Roy Sander
Barbara Lynn Pedersen
"For the Love Along the Way"
The Duplex - October 10, 17, 24
There is a lot that is very, very good in Barbara Lynn Pedersen's show. For one thing, there is her multi-faceted voice: sometimes a mezzo with an attractive tight vibrato that is warm and welcoming; other times, she displays the soprano end of mezzo-soprano with a lovely crystal-clear sound; and sometimes she lets loose with a solid legit belt. Then there are the intelligence and charm that show through her patter—and through her interpretations, which takes me to the most important quality: her ability to interpret songs with sensitivity and depth. And although this is only her second show, she performs with considerable assurance and stage presence.
The program is quite eclectic, and except for the final number, the material is well chosen. (Erv Raible directed, and Rick Jensen is musical director and accompanies at the piano.) Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields are represented by a spirited rendition of "Pick Yourself Up," and Sondheim by "Move On" segueing to "Take Me to the World," which Pedersen imbues with passionate longing. Dolly Parton's "Nine to Five" has been combined with James Brown and Betty Jean Newsome's "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World" and Dorthy Fields and Cy Coleman's "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This," not as a medley, per se, but to form a new and integrated whole with its own point of view; it's a wonderful arrangement. Less successful is Otto Harbach and Jerome Kern's "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," in which the pop piano arrangement fights with and undermines the more dramatic vocal treatment; what's more, towards the end, the vocal, which until then has been straightforward, becomes too busy.
Local and contemporary songwriters are well represented. Love is championed in Timothy Mathis's beautiful "My First Mistake" and celebrated in Carol McCann's heartfelt "The Love Along the Way." Maury Yeston's "Please Let's Not Even Say Hello" and Jennifer Grimm's "Queer Condition" make a strong pairing. Pedersen gives all of these songs readings that are emotionally potent without a trace of excess. Charles DeForest's near-standard "When Do the Bells Ring for Me?" and Stevie Wonder's "If It's Magic" are both delivered simply but affectingly, and the latter song leaves one with a sweet aah feeling. Only with Francesca Blumenthal's witty "Museum" does Pedersen come a cropper: she sings some of it in a British accent, some in a Brooklyn—or is it Jersey City?—accent, both of which are mistakes, especially since the song is purportedly autobiographical, and she throws in gratuitous and unwise asides; she needs to simplify and clarify.
Some of the patter, though personable, doesn't quite set the next song up appositely; on the other hand, the patter has been kept to a sensible length, and most of it works. Her performance of the opening number, Stephen Schwartz's "Dreamscape," lacks a center and is not up to her own standard. (Problems with opening numbers are so commonplace that I wonder whether I should simply take my seat five minutes late.)
OK, the aforementioned final number. Has an ickier song ever been written than "I Believe" (Ervin Drake, Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl, Al Stillman—yes, it took four people to write that!)? But Pedersen does sing it splendidly.