Winegardner's show is a self-conscious concoction about her attempt to put on an act that is different from everyone else's. She promises that we're not going to get that same old autobiographical journey about a kid from the sticks coming to New York to make it in the theater. The obvious joke is that this is exactly what we end up getting, although it's offered in a sometimes cockeyed manner. The show is structured to suggest that Winegardner is making things up as she goes along, which would be fine if she really made us believe that.
Comedy is harder than brain surgery, and it needs almost as much precision as that skill. Winegardner would get more laughs if both the sound and the fury of her comedy were modulated; she needs not only to soften her act but also to occasionally slow it down -- pace it, give it rhythm, let the jokes breathe. She should reel the audience in rather than constantly hammer away at them. To be sure, the woman is not without talent, and we love the title of her show: $10 Cover, 2 Ballad Maximum. There are bursts of comic inventiveness peppered throughout her material, but she shouldn't think of reviving this debut show without polishing it first.
What a sweet revelation is soprano Stephanie Zagoren! Her recent show A Breath of Spring! was not without its flaws; but the talent of this cabaret regular was very much in bloom during the brand-new act, which just concluded a run at Don't Tell Mama. Hand her a ballad with a measured tempo and this singer will give it a sumptuous spin. Listen to her sing "The Man I Love" (the Gershwins) or "Try to Remember" (Schmidt-Jones) and you'll be impressed by her warmth, sincerity, and vocal beauty. Zagoren only gets into trouble when she tries to vary her program with uptempo tunes or comedy numbers. Something like "Bye, Bye, Blackbird" (Henderson-Dixon) neither swings nor satisfies because this singer's style is more lyrical than it is jazzy, and she can't make the leap.
Zagoren and her director, Ricky Ritzel, tried to put together a show with a variety of musical styles represented, so that the evening wouldn't be just a series of pretty ballads. Perhaps the solution could be found in a song already in the act, Steven Lutvak's "Inside My Body is a Dancer." In this wonderful number with several tempo changes, Zagoren never has to hold an uptempo riff for any length of time before returning to the safety zone of the ballad; the song itself provides musical variety. If Zagoren could find other, similar songs and/or have certain numbers arranged in a similar manner, she could put on an act with enough vocal versatility to satisfy most any audience.
Carolyn Montgomery just finished a series of six Monday night shows, all but one of which took place at the Theater at St. Clement's Church on West 46th Street. The buzz on her act was very strong, so we used a pickaxe on our schedule in order to catch a little bit of it -- and we're glad we did.
Like most accomplished cabaret artists, Montgomery can hold a theater stage with easy confidence, and the sizeable crowd at her show augured well for other acts of this caliber to be performed in theater spaces like this one on their dark nights, thereby developing more cabaret venues throughout the city. In fact, we've learned that Montgomery's success was such that she'll be back at St. Clement's in September and October with an extension of her show. That's good news for cabaret. And speaking of good news for cabaret, we'll be reporting on new rooms sprouting up around NYC in our next column.