The Blonde Baumer Morphs Into a Star
Marnie Baumer is wonderfully animated in her new act at Don't Tell Mama.
Marnie Baumer has big, expressive eyes framed by the kind of long, sultry lashes that Jessica Rabbit would envy. That is particularly appropriate because Baumer has just begun a run of a show at Don't Tell Mama that celebrates the female characters of animated movies. This young, attractive belter brings a palpable passion to the proceedings, and the show itself is a unique vehicle through which she fully expresses herself without ever having to use the word "I."
As directed by Erv Raible, Baumer draws music from animated shorts and feature length films from the 1920s to the present, cutting a wide swath though both film and American cultural history. Presenting us with musical images of women from the last 75 years, she rightly begins with "Journey to the Past" (Flaherty & Ahrens) from Anastasia. For the most part, her choices are flawless. To get a few quibbles out of the way: Baumer has much of the audience scratching their heads when she launches into "We Kiss in a Shadow" (Rodgers & Hammerstein) from The King and I, as many people are blissfully unaware of the recent, terrible animated movie version of that famous musical. She also acts out a 1920s era cartoon about Molly MooCow that seems inappropriate to the rest of the act. She does it well but it is not effective as a lead-in to her next song, "Colors of the Wind" (Schwartz-Menken) from Pocahontas. Finally, Baumer's patter tends to be overwritten, precious when it ought to be direct.
Beyond these minor issues, the show -- titled Animato in G: A Tribute to Women in Animated Film -- marks another major leap forward in this performer's career. In her last solo show at the FireBird Café, Marnie Baumer Mouths Off, she emerged as a provocative and sassy singer. That sass is retained in the current show but Baumer also draws upon a well of musical colors every bit as rich as an animator's inkwell, with the help of musical director Tedd Firth on piano and Ritt Henn on bass. Self-possessed yet achingly vulnerable, Baumer is the very image of adorable. No wonder she does such a sensational job of evoking Betty Boop in a modest, four-song segment(arranged by Shelly Markham) that includes a vividly funny description of a particular pre-Hays Code cartoon.
One of those songs is Irving Berlin's "You'd Be Surprised", and ain't it the truth about the show: You'll be surprised to hear Baumer turn dark and commanding as a witch in "Poor Unfortunate Souls" (Ashman-Menken) from The Little Mermaid (arranged by Bobby Peaco). You'll be surprised to hear (and see) her vamp her way through "Why Don't You Do Right?" (Joe McCoy) from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. And you'll be surprised and thrilled to hear her emotionally charged rendition of "Reflection" (Zippel-Wilder) from Mulan. Baumer not only unearths great songs from animated movies, she even unearths one that was written for Mulan but never used. It's a stirring anthem about women's rights by Stephen Schwartz, titled "Written in Stone."
The show is about women in cartoons, but it's also about Marnie Baumer's talent. Like so many gifted cabaret performers, she is still waiting for that big break and will somehow hang on until it comes. It's all there in the lyric of her last song, when she sings "though hope is frail / it's hard to kill" from "When You Believe" (Stephen Schwartz, arranged by Ian Herman). The song is from the movie The Prince of Eygpt and, when she sings it, Marnie Baumer is the princess of Don't Tell Mama. Catch her show there if you can.