As Christine Andreas explains shortly after taking the stage at 54 Below, the title of her stunning new cabaret show, Bemused, has many definitions in the Merriam-Webster dictionary–from confused to amused–but none of them apply directly to what she has brilliantly put together in this 70-minute parade of classic tunes that showcase the perfect match of songwriter and original singer (in other words, Be Mused).
For a less seasoned artist, this sort of show would be a fool's errand, where a performer would be destined to fail in comparison to such legends as Barbra Streisand and Dionne Warwick. However, this two-time Tony Award nominee (Oklahoma! On Your Toes)–with more than three decades of acting under her belt, combined with a flexible, highly expressive soprano–simply rises to her own challenge, finding ways to make these oft-performed standards sound utterly fresh while simultaneously honoring their musical roots.
After starting off on a slightly surprising, but surefooted, note with a jazzy rendition of Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler's "Get Happy" and an almost delicate take on Arlen and Yip Harburg's "Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe," Andreas delivers her first knockout punch of the evening, with a trio of Brazilian classics, "The Girl from Ipanema," "Desifinado," and "Wave," sung with a sultriness that instantly transports audiences away from chilly New York and straight down to South America.
Next up is a simply stunning version of Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen's "All My Tomorrows," followed by a medley of finger-snapping tunes also made famous by Frank Sinatra ("Come Fly With Me," "The Tender Trap," and "Come Blow Your Horn") that nicely evokes the 1950s and 1960s as Andreas shows off a gently swinging side to her musical personality.
Still, it's the latter half of Bemused during which Andreas basically stops her own show with each number. Rarely have I heard as deeply felt versions of Michel Legrand and Marilyn and Alan Bergman's "The Summer Knows," Jimmy Webb's "Didn't We" and "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," and Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "Alfie" and "What the World Needs Now." In each selection, Andreas gives full weight to the poetic lyrics of these songs in such a way that you may fully understand the words for the first time.
Speaking of words, few writers had as finely wrought a gift for them as Lorenz Hart, and Andreas does his work justice by wringing all the comic juice out of his wickedly funny "To Keep My Love Alive," about a woman who keeps offing her husband. After that, Andreas simply devours every inch of Hart's masterpiece "Bewitched," in which a middle-aged woman marvels at her surprising romance with a younger man. (Both songs were written for the great actress Vivenne Segal, with whom Hart was so besotted he proposed marriage to her three times, even though Hart was gay).
Andreas concludes her set with two songs made famous by the great Edith Piaf, "Milord" and "La Vie En Rose," both sung in French and delivered with such passion and fervor, they transcend any language barrier and provide a fantastic finale for this superbly structured show.