Susan Hodgdon

March 7, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

“On the Bumpy Road to Love”

Don’t Tell Mama – February 25

When Susan Hodgdon enters from the back of the room at the start of her new show singing, sans mic, a ballad version of “Silly Love Songs” (Paul & Linda McCartney), touching the shoulders of audience members as she slowly makes her way to the stage, one feels that she’s ready to bare her heart, talking and singing about her bumpy road to love. And so she does.

Hodgdon, a veteran of open mics and various classes for several years—all the while commuting from the Hartford area—is a testament to perseverance and sheer refusal to let her dream die. Here at last, in her second full-length show, she is finding the truth in the songs. Her inner passion is matching the promise of the voice. At times it has a Garlandesque throb, but she is no longer relying on that gimmick, but showing more vocal colors. Likewise, her stagecraft has improved dramatically; she has never appeared more confident.

An autobiographical show about love is certainly not new, but it’s rarely been this visible on the performer’s sleeve. When she unaffectedly recalls the junior high dance when she bought a new dress in hopes of talking to that special boy—only to sit quietly in a corner all night long—she transports us to those painful adolescent moments as well. Musically, this vulnerability is most heartfelt on “If You Really Knew Me” (Carole Bayer Sager, Marvin Hamlisch).

Not everything is so tender, however. Hodgdon displays a great flair for comedy. On “When You Got it, Flaunt It” (Mel Brooks), she works all the Lord gave her in her form-fitting wine-colored gown, all the funnier because she doesn’t have the airs that would let her be a sex kitten. On “It’s Only a Broken Heart” (Carol Hall), tossing off lines like “It’s not like somebody died,” she displays the cynical world-weariness of someone who’s been down that brokenhearted road one too many times. And for a different kind of love, she invests “Bacon” (Mary Liz McNamara) with all the passion of an opera diva.

Hodgdon finds her dramatic stride in a back-to-back pairing of “Black Coffee” (Paul Francis Webster, Sonny Burke) and Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind.” The latter, in particular, is an emotional challenge for any actress. While there have been more compelling versions from veteran performers, Hodgdon never wavers in her commitment to the emotional build in the song, and her version satisfies. The singer is less convincing in the sexy numbers like Sondheim’s “Sooner or Later” and Dave Frishberg’s “Peel Me a Grape,” tending to overplay the seduction without finding subtler shades.

She has a few noticeable vocal habits that she should address. One is her tendency to leave off consonants at the ends of words. Another is an occasional lapse in her breathing, which makes for awkward vocal phrasing. For example, in “Where is Love?” (Lionel Bart), she sings “Whe (pause) Ris (pause) Love?” And although she is experimenting with different vocal shadings now, when she sings in full voice—impressive as that strength can be—it’s a bit like an airplane leaving the runway: big, and no stopping it. More control is needed.

The great Barry Levitt accompanies on piano, giving her just the right amount of support without overshadowing the singer. Director Peter Napolitano appears to have improved her focus and interpretive abilities, as well as her microphone technique.

In the end, Hodgdon’s road to love may have been bumpy, but she gives her heart to her audience, and her heart is every bit as big as her voice. And that’s saying something.

 

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Kevin Scott Hall performed in cabaret clubs for many years and recorded three CDs, including “New Light Dawning” in 1998, which received national airplay. He also worked at the legendary piano bar, Rose’s Turn, and has taught cabaret workshops and directed shows since 1995. Kevin earned his MFA in Creative Writing at City College of New York. He is an adjunct professor in the Theatre and English departments at City College and Borough of Manhattan Community College. His novel, “Off the Charts!” was published in 2010, and his memoir, “A Quarter Inch from My Heart” (Wisdom Moon), in 2014. Kevin writes a monthly column and entertainment features for Edge Media Network, writes reviews for BistroAwards.com, and freelances for other publications.

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