Audiences who have been frequent visitors to 54 Below have learned to expect the unexpected as this fabulous new club encourages performers to get down, let loose, or merely think outside their proverbial boxes.
Still, I thought I had heard the strangest match of singer and song just two months ago when Brian d'Arcy James crooned former teen idol Bobby Sherman's hit, "Julie, Julie, Julie." But leave it to Marin Mazzie to go one better -- and belt out The Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You" (while also talking about the "versatility" of her purple hairbrush).
As it happens, this eclectic, unusual selection is just one highlight of Mazzie's dazzling and surprisingly lighthearted musical journey, which begins in her parents' Illinois living room in 1970, when she (and I, as it happens) were 10 years old, and continues until the end of that seminal decade. During the course of the next 50 minutes, Mazzie shows us sides of her we've not only never seen, but probably never imagined.
Focusing first on listening to her parents as they danced in her Illinois living room, Mazzie puts her own take on a quartet of standards, including a sultry "Come on-a My House," a jazzy "Tenderly," and a deliciously sultry "Begin the Beguine" (accompanied solely by Larry Lalli's drums), before moving us up to her bedroom and shifting to some of the greatest pop hits of the 1960s and 1970s.
While there's nothing completely new about Broadway stars revisiting this period, the true genius of this show is that Mazzie gives each number its rightful due, whether blazingly capturing the heartache of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "Anyone Who Had a Heart," the playful sexiness of Maria Muldaur's "Midnight at the Oasis," or the bittersweet resignation behind Carly Simon's "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be."
Her rendition of Barbra Streisand's and Paul Williams' "Evergreen" is unsurprisingly beautiful, but the hilarious true story of when (and why) she first sang it in public takes it to a different level. And in taking on Barry Manilow's "Weekend in New England," Mazzie delivers the song (which is not nearly as profound as we all thought as teenagers) with an operatic intensity that is almost breathtaking.
Perhaps it's fitting that her finale is Neil Diamond's "I'm A Believer," because by this act's end, you will believe that Marin Mazzie really can sing anything -- and everything -- brilliantly.