Cynthia Farrell

June 29, 2013 | By | Add a Comment

“Cynthia Farrell for Real”

Don’t Tell Mama – July 23, 25, 31

Cynthia FarrellWith her smooth, controlled, powerful voice, her deep concentration, and her diligent attention to enunciation and phrasing, Cynthia Farrell, now making her cabaret debut at Don’t Tell Mama, is a talent to keep a sharp eye on. The emotional intensity she can bring to a song, along with the way she pronounces certain words while singing, call to mind the spell-weaving early work of Jane Olivor. At one point in the evening, Farrell notes that she’s “half Mexican.” But there’s something in the way she sings certain phrases that sounds Irish (something her surname would support). Whatever her heritage, she’s a singer with presence.

The highlight of the set is a moving, flawlessly executed medley of Stephen Sondheim’s “Loving You” and Leonard Bernstein and Sondheim’s “I Have a Love.” Every note of the medley is full-bodied, assured, and lovely. Together, the pair of songs becomes a confession of romantic obsession and a coming to terms with that obsession. Farrell smiles at moments at the hopelessness of her overpowering devotion, but it’s a wise smile—and therefore a slightly sad one.

Farrell’s program has an autobiographical slant. She and writer-director James Horvath have created a story arc about finding love, starting a family, having it all fall apart, and then rebounding through a program of self-reflection and inner-strength building. It’s a familiar tack, of course, to build an act around one’s personal journey. It’s not what I would have recommended for a debut show, but for the most part, Farrell makes it work—although the narrative thread gets lost during parts of the program. The most interesting use of a song in service of her personal tale is the repurposing of Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg’s “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead” as a celebration of the exorcism of the witch-like part of her personality that emerged following the collapse of her marriage This song is the lightest fare of the evening—and the jazz-inflected arrangement gives Farrell a chance to do some sprightly scat singing. On the night I saw her, “Ding-Dong!” was a crowd pleaser.

Not all of the selections are as effective. I believe this is due in part to some of the arrangements by musical director and pianist Fran Minarik, which tend to be heavy on dissonance and a kind of edgy, experimental quality that sometimes proves distracting. For instance, the opening number, Bernstein and Sondheim’s “Something’s Coming,” is outfitted with a kind of avant-garde boogie-woogie underpinning that doesn’t serve the singer at all. Here I felt Farrell was swimming upstream against the current of Minarik’s playing.

But—like the Sondheim/Bernstein medley—other selections, such as the trembling-with-emotion “100 Years” (John Ondrasik), are delivered in a graceful, resonant voice. Farrell gets to show off her talent for belting on two forceful numbers that close the program: Sondheim’s “Being Alive” and Michel Legrand and Marilyn and Alan Bergman’s “A Piece of Sky.” I would have advised her to pick one of these and discard the other in favor of something less bombastic. She does return to a quieter mode for her encore, Lennon and McCartney’s “Blackbird.” There are some moments of phrasing in that number that suggest that Farrell would do well to add some blues-oriented selections in future shows. I’d also like to hear what she can do with something in a swinging, lilting key—perhaps some up-tempo Gershwin or Berlin. As with her inclusion of “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead,” such additions might offset the dramatic selections, thereby making them seem even stronger and more poignant.


Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. He began writing reviews for in 2011. More recently he has contributed "Cabaret Setlist" articles about cabaret repertoire. Other reviews and articles have appeared in and, as well as in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

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