Robyn McCorquodale

April 30, 2015 | By | Add a Comment

Robyn McCorquodaleWhen singer-pianist Robyn McCorquodale claims that her career has taken her to all seven continents, you may wonder who, exactly, comprised her audience in Antarctica. Emperor penguins? It all makes better sense when she explains that she has worked extensively as a cruise ship entertainer.

Apparently she has been very successful in this career, and one can see why. McCorquodale is lovely to look at, spirited, and engaging, and she has a comforting presence. Listening to her for an hour or so might very well be an enjoyable way to spend time on a cruise ship. She certainly seems to have avid fans. For instance, on the night I saw her show, “Diary of a Piano Girl,” admirers from her hometown of Vancouver, B.C. showed up at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, to her surprise and delight.

All of this evades the big question, though: Is McCorquodale able to effectively showcase her talents in a cabaret room in Manhattan?

Commercially speaking, it all depends on demand. If there’s a market to hear Robyn McCorquodale sing on dry land, then why not book a room and do so? As far as artistic merits are concerned, piano-bar singers are very much a part of the New York cabaret scene, and sometimes can break through to successfully perform in a more-formalized show format. McCorquodale seems to be aiming to make this show something special. Except for her encore number, she sings only original, self-penned material. She makes a point of getting up and stepping away from the piano throughout her set to present a scripted narrative center stage. She has also chosen to include some projected videos—most of which she has herself photographed and edited. Some of these filmed sequences are quite effectively crafted.

However, her opening number, “I Still Got the Dream,” is accompanied by a video directed and edited by Nima Mohseni that is kitschy and—frankly—strange. It follows McCorquodale, dressed in a flowing frock similar to the one she wears onstage. She drifts through forests and meadows and at one point executes a Julie Andrews–style turn in a patch of flowers. Intermittently, her screen image mouths the lyrics to McCorquodale’s live voice—in perfect synch. The whole thing comes off like an elaborate karaoke routine with video images.

Immediately after this opening song, she begins her spoken narrative. It turns out that her first anecdote is the most exciting and memorable one of the evening. It concerns how, out of the blue, McCorquodale was engaged to perform for the Sultan of Brunei. The story has everything you’d want as a climactic moment late in a cabaret show: an extravagantly decadent setting, a harem, even an indecent proposal. It’s a bit of a comedown when McCorquodale’s later tales prove to be more mundane. Many people have gotten lost wandering through Venice. But how many have been summoned to Borneo to sing for a head of state? It’s to her credit that McCorquodale makes the later stories as entertaining as they are.

Her singing voice is fine, for the most part—sturdy and confident.  Occasionally when she tries to perform with a more legit sound, her vibrato tends to get a little wobbly, but that’s not a major problem. Most of the songs she’s written are mid-tempo pop-rock numbers. Some reminded me of material that people like Helen Reddy or Olivia Newton John might have included on their late 1970s or early 1980s albums. Some numbers sound country-ish. Others have a funkier vibe. One title—“Destiny”—sounds very much like something Jackson Browne might have written. McCorquodale’s lyrics throughout the set brim with references to miracles, angels, sunlight, stars, and the importance of expecting the unexpected. They may not be especially memorable, original or profound, but they’re clearly heartfelt. The only “standard” she sings is Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg’s “Over the Rainbow,” which is given the kind of dance-club treatment Ethel Merman used on her notorious 1979 disco album. At least it’s nice to hear one familiar melody.

Respected musicians accompany McCorquodale in this show: Peter Calo on guitar, Chris Marshak on drums, and Ritt Henn in a fairly rare turn on bass guitar (instead of his customary double bass). They all help McCorquodale’s compositions sound their best. If she wants to make further forays into New York cabaret, though, maybe next time out she should also enlist a writer and/or director to help her shape a more focused and sophisticated show—one that better suits the sensibilities of those landlubbers whose idea of an island paradise is one accessible to the rest of the world not only by seagoing vessel but also by bridges and tunnels.

“Diary of a Piano Girl”
Laurie Beechman Theatre  –  April 8, 14, 22, 28

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. In addition to reviewing for BistroAwards.com, he contributes regularly to theaterscene.net and clydefitchreport.com. Other reviews and articles have appeared 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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