Mychelle Colleary breaks out in a new show at The Duplex; the Siegels are there to take note, and to take notes.
A native San Franciscan who recently moved to New York, Colleary has come up with an act built on comparisons between California and The Big Apple -- a theme that sits right on top of a cliché fault line. However, to Colleary's credit as a writer and performer, the act doesn't fall into an abyss of stale jokes about laid-back Left Coasters vs. neurotic New Yorkers. Instead, her patter reveals an engagingly quirky personality, and her take on East Coast/West Coast differences is refreshing in large part because she describes those differences in personal terms.
The darkly playful title doesn't accurately reflect the content of the show. Colleary opens with Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" rather than with a song about Alcatraz, and who can blame her; but she changes some of the lyrics, and the performance never frees itself from that distraction. Nor does she sing "Sing, Sing, Sing." (So much for the East Coast prison reference.) Once we escape the prison concept, however, we're free to enjoy the show.
Colleary has brought a new musical director into the cabaret sphere -- or, at least, he's new to us. His name is John DiPinto and his jazz-infused arrangements are original and imaginative. DiPinto plays the piano but also picks up a slew of other instruments during the course of the show to add more rich sounds to the mix. On bass is Ritt Henn, whose colorful playing is another notable asset.
DiPinto's stylish, bongo drum-accented arrangement of "Trust Me" (Richard & Robert Sherman) is given vocal verve by Colleary, who then turns saucy as she delivers "Twisted" (Annie Ross-Wardell Gray). In fact, one of the singer's hallmarks is her versatility; she's more than willing to challenge herself, and even if she isn't always in complete control of her voice, she is thrillingly fearless. Colleary wrote two of the songs in her act. One of them, "Analgesic," suggests that she possesses genuine talent as both a tunesmith and a lyricist.
The show reaches its apex with a story of Colleary's search for a burrito and a beer in New York City, a tasty tale that beautifully sets up her standout rendition of "Make it Go Away" (Harding-Davis). Here, Colleary truly comes into her own and we see just how wonderful a performer she can be. What she has throughout the show is personality and presence. There are plenty of things she does wrong -- little, correctable mistakes that should disappear with seasoning -- but this woman commands the stage. She knows who she is as a performer and she gets that message across, which is both the hardest and the most fundamental element of working in cabaret.