Mary Stout plays the housekeeper in Jane Eyre eight times a week. But, every now and then, she makes a clean sweep of things in a cabaret room, fully exhibiting her wide-ranging talents. It's especially satisfying to see an entertainer who has been somewhat constrained by her stage roles get the chance to star in her own show and knock 'em dead. This is not to say that Stout's act is flawless or that some numbers don't pay off, but the overall impact is unmistakable.
Recently performed twice in the new club space Upstairs at Studio 54, Stout's show is cleverly titled Lighter Than Eyre. And it truly is buoyant, rising on the waves of laughter Stout elicits through her performances of musical comedy numbers like the virtually unknown "It's Not What You Weigh, It's The Way That You Throw It Around" (Wally Harper/David Zippel), the wonderfully offal "Garbage" (Sheldon Harnick), and the show-stopping "Alto's Lament" (Zina Goldrich/Marcy Heisler). Stout possesses a strong, rangy voice that has plenty of octane in more than one octave, plus she has the acting ability to really score with these witty numbers.
If the comedy songs raise Stout's show to great heights, the dramatic numbers give it depth. She displays another aspect of her personality with a beautiful Lucy Coolidge tune, "Dream Come True." Elegantly accompanied on piano by musical director Christopher Marlowe and on cello by Leo Grinhauz, Stout presents this touching song early in the program and thereby immediately establishes wide (or should we stout?) parameters for her show. She can be a wistful old maid aunt in "I Won't Mind" (Blumenkrantz/Kessler & Saines) or a lusty lover in "Cooking Breakfast for the One I Love" (Rose/Tobias). The point is, she's a "Character Gal" (Rybeck/Hayes), and she immerses herself in her material to the point where every song seems to be sung by a different person. Stout even tackles the feminist anthem "Back to Before" (Flaherty/Ahrens) from Ragtime, and it might have worked for her had she not set it up as an AIDS number at the show we attended, offered as a benefit for The Marcia Shew Fund for pediatric AIDS patients. Good cause, bad interpretation.
Stout's performance in Jane Eyre has given her something of a high profile, and she is taking advantage of that fact by showcasing her skills in cabaret. This is, after all, an art form that allows Broadway talents to shine in the kind of spotlight that the stage doesn't always provide. Cabaret can be a gift to performers and, as in Mary Stout's case, a gift to the audience as well.
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