Once you get past the arch construct of David Sabella's new act at Judy*s Chelsea, you'll have yourself an entertaining evening. While it's often helpful to have a theme around which to build a show, sometimes it can just get in the way. In Sabella's show, Sing, You Sinners!, he forces songs to match up with a variety of sins--and the sins, as described, are a bit of a stretch in themselves. Once we arrive at the songs, on the other hand, Sabella often delivers them with originality and style.
This marks the first time that Sabella has performed a cabaret act entirely as himself; in the past, he always took the stage as Amanda Reckonwith, a wildly over-the-top drag character that allowed the singer to take full advantage of his countertenor range. Sabella has happily put that identity aside here, and he emerges as an attractive performer with undeniable stage presence. Even when he does give the audience a taste of his countertenor talent in a winning rendition of "A Soprano's Life Is For Me" (Coris/Johnson, with additional lyric by Mark Hartman), it has nothing to do with Amanda Reckonwith and everything to do with David Sabella.
This performer is a risk taker, and that fact lends an air of excitement to his show. By way of example, he takes a chance with an arrangement of "No Moon at All" (Evans/Mann) that is in direct opposition to the way the song is usually performed. And what a revelation! Quiet, delicate, introspective, the song takes on a wondrous new life. He also goes out on a limb with Adam Guettel's "Icarus," turning it into a big production number (by cabaret standards). It's an ambitious effort that failed for us, largely because we never bought into the song in the first place. But the point is that, whether Sabella fails or succeeds with any individual interpretation, he never plays it safe. That keeps the audience alive with anticipation for each new number, curious and anxious to know what surprise awaits them around the next musical bend. And the surprises of the evening are many, including a particularly eclectic song list that includes material written by Harry Connick, Jr., John Dankworth, and Bob Ost/Scott Oakley.
Sabella wrote the show, and he relies too heavily on patter to tell his personal "sin" story. He delivers his remarks well, but there are just too many of them; it's useful to set up his song selections, of course, but he needn't say nearly so much in order to do so. Still, to give Sabella his due, the show is carefully thought-out and well crafted. There is a sheen to this act that one doesn't always find in the clubs around town. Part of that glow comes from the musical arrangements of Mark Hartman, and color is added by the snazzy lighting designs of Siobhan Weiss; but this is David Sabella's show from start to finish, and his aura of talent shines most brightly of all.
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