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What’s Not To Like About Betsy Wolfe at Feinstein’s/ 54 Below

What’s Not To Like About Betsy Wolfe at Feinstein’s/ 54 Below

In the opening song of her new cabaret show at Feinstein’s/ 54 Below, acclaimed Broadway performer Betsy Wolfe sang the musical request, “Please Like Me” by Kristen Anderson –Lopez and Robert Lopez. All I could think was: what’s not to like about this utterly delightful, super sexy, tremendously talented songbird? Poured into a gasp-inducing, low cut, black sequined evening dress, she regaled the audience with her glittering voice and effervescent personality. Inside and out, everything about Ms. Wolfe sparkled and shimmered to our constant delight.

Of course, another part of Ms. Wolfe’s great talent and appeal is her chameleon-like ability to effortlessly shift vocal styles. In her next number, “What Baking Can Do”, and later in the set, “She Used to Be Mine”, two Sara Bareilles compositions from the hit musical Waitress in which Ms. Wolfe starred in for some time, she delivered the heart wrenching, folky intimacy demanded by the material.   

Just as quickly and as easily, however, she would pop back into her high energy Broadway persona, with songs “Summer in Ohio” and “I Can Do Better Than That” from another of her acclaimed performances as Cathy in Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years. Shift again, and Ms. Wolfe took us lovingly into the musical theater classic Pal Joey with a sensitive rendition of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.“  

She got down and dirty with People Get Ready by Curtis Mayfield and showed her pop/rock chops on Landslide by Stevie Nicks. When the new musical of Nashville is casting, I hope they get to hear that Ms. Wolfe can deliver that style absolutely perfectly, as well. 

One of the great joys of cabaret is that it lets us get up close and personal with the performers we love. That often includes hearing tales of their youth we don’t otherwise get to hear. Ms. Wolfe showed us pictures of herself as a freckle faced ten year old with an 80s poodle perm, who was definitely not expected to blossom into the bombshell she became. She used a real stack of love letters she has received from admirers over the years to set up a wonderful rendition of “I Love Betsy” from JRB’s Honeymoon In Vegas.  Best among the wonderful anecdotes she shared, was when she described meeting Stephen Sondheim for the first time, and telling him that  as a child she watched a VHS tape of Into the Woods, which inspired her to become a performer.  When she told him that she watched the tape every day for the entire summer, Mr. Sondheim wryly replied, “Didn’t you get it the first time?”

Another hysterically funny bit she shared, which I wish I could hear again, was describing what came out of her when she tried to learn “Another Hundred People” from Company for her first audition for James Lapine, with only two days to prepare. Her lyric gaffs included “Another hundred people just got off of the bus, and I’m riding the bus, and the bus is named Gus!” Suffice it to say, she didn’t book that job. But her talent led to her working three times for Mr. Lapine in later shows.

As an encore, Ms. Wolfe closed with “You, the Mountain, and Me” by Paul Heaton, a lovely song with an open spirit, which she dedicated to the memory of beloved Broadway performer Marin Mazzie, who was lost to us, too soon last year.

Ms. Wolfe was backed in her set by a sensitive and talented ensemble consisting of M.D. and pianist Andrew Resnick, Justin Goldner on guitar, Michael Thurber on bass and Jared Schonig on drums. 

Earlier, in her medley of the women from Mr. Sondheim’s Into the Woods, Ms. Wolfe explained that Mr. Sondheim’s ladies in this show taught us “every life lesson that you ever need to learn.” The lesson for you, dear readers, is don’t miss the marvelous Ms. Wolfe the next time Feinstein’s/ 54 Below gives you a chance to spend an evening with her.  

Cabaret

Jeffery Lyle Segal is a multifaceted theater artist who has worn many professional hats. He started as a musical theater performer in his teens. He attended Stanford U., Northwestern University, and SUNY at Binghamton to study acting, directing and dramatic literature. He also wrote theater reviews for The Stanford Daily and was Arts Editor of WNUR Radio at Northwestern. After college, he is proud to have been the first full time Executive Director of Chicago’s acclaimed Steppenwolf Theater Company. He left them to work as a theater actor and director. His special effects makeup skills got him into the movies, working on the seminal cult horror film, Re-Animator.He also did casting for several important Chicago projects, sometimes wearing both production hats, as he did on Chicago’s most famous independent movie, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. While living in Los Angeles, he joined the Academy for New Musical Theater, where he developed two book musicals as a composer, lyricist and librettist, Down to Earth Girl (formerly I Come for Love, NYMF 2008), and Scandalous Behavior! (York Developmental Reading Series 2010). He wrote, produced and performed his song “Forever Mine” as the end title theme of the horror film, Trapped! He also has written songs for his performances in cabaret over the years, and the time he spent pursuing country music in Nashville. Most recently he created a musical revue, Mating the Musical, for the Chicago Musical Theater Festival 2016. In NYC, he has attended the BMI musical theater writers’ workshop, and the Commercial Theater Institute 14 week producer program. He is currently creating a company to develop new musicals online. He still keeps up his makeup chops, working with top doctors in NYC and Chicago as one of the country’s most highly regarded permanent cosmetic artists (www.bestpermanentmakeup.com) and as a member of Chicago local IATSE 476. www.jefferylylesegal.com

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