Chemistry? Yeah, Chemistry!
Amanda Green and Jim Caruso combine their talents to great effect in a terrific show at the Laurie Beechman Theater.
Amanda Green and Jim Caruso called their recent series of shows together at the Laurie Beechman Theater 2wice as Much Fun. Not only was the title cleverly conceived, it was also a case of truth in advertising. Although Green is a songwriter-singer with a penchant for comically dicey, often country flavored material and Caruso (a fellow TheaterMania columnist) is perhaps cabaret's most urbane and sophisticated musical comedy stylist, the two combined their talents to achieve a bubbling chemistry in a very funny show.
The act worked in part because the two stars wisely didn't offer too many duets; rather, they found just the right balance of stage time together and apart. They don't usually perform as a team, so the bulk of the show consisted of each of them performing alone on stage with pianist Billy Stritch. But when Green and Caruso did appear together, they really enhanced each other's appeal, engendering the kind of laughter they could not have created alone. Consider their opening, a comically mangled version of Maltby and Shire's "Starting Here, Starting Now" during which Green and Caruso kept asking Stritch for help with their lines while coming up with just the wrong words. They had the audience roaring, then topped themselves with a musical explanation for their apparent failure: "We Didn't Have Time to Rehearse" (written by Green with Curtis Moore), a sly number tartly performed by this winsome twosome.
Caruso remained on stage for his solo section of the show, once again demonstrating his consummate timing (nobody throws away a gag better than he does) and his stylish way with a song. His version -- and it truly is his version -- of "Coffee in a Cardboard Cup" by Kander & Ebb with special lyrics by Ebb, Caruso, and Johnny Rodgers, is a shot of joltin' joe. Like most skilled comedians, Caruso is a gifted actor; he brought that talent to bear in a contemplative rendition of "If I Only Had a Brain" (Arlen/Harburg).
Green, in her part of the program, mirrored Caruso's success with a ballad; when she sang "On My Perfect Day" (Green/Moore), she was touching, vulnerable, and entirely real. It is, in fact, one of Green's assets as a performer that she doesn't strike poses (except when she does so for comic effect) and that her image is so straightforwardly female. She seems like a real woman on stage rather than a created persona. The result is that, when she sings, her performance always comes across as totally honest. And in a winning comic number like "If You Leave Me...?" (Green/Kennon), there is a humanity underneath that deepens the humor.
Green and Caruso rejoined forces at the end of the show for an amusing turn on yet another one of Green's clever compositions, "Overestimated" (again, written with Curtis Moore) before harmonizing sweetly on "Ohio" by Leonard Bernstein and Comden & Green. In this case, the Green was not Amanda but her late father, Adolph -- and Betty Comden was in the audience. The performance of the song was a lovely gesture by Green and Caruso, gallantly performed.
[More reviews by the Siegels can be found at www.cabarethotlineonline.com. For information on the First Annual Nightlife Awards, to be co-presented by Scott Siegel in January at The Town Hall, click here]