Charlotte Patton

August 20, 2012

“Looking for Love in the 21st Century”

The Duplex  –  August 15, 22, Sept. 19

Any number of qualities or factors can induce me to see a performer I’m unfamiliar with—for example, a photograph on a flyer that gives the artist an air of intelligence or wit, or a theme that sounds interesting or intriguing. Another incentive is a recommendation from the club’s booking manager. I don’t get these very often, which, perhaps, is one reason that I always give them great weight. Several weeks ago, Thomas Honeck, the booking manager at The Duplex, sent me a very brief email about Charlotte Patton, stating, with an ingratiating absence of hype, that he thought I “might enjoy her show.” Thanks for the heads-up, Thomas—and never having been accused of reticence or diffidence, I’m happy to wax a bit more effusive in my praise for Ms. Patton.

She is an actress-singer who takes a fresh perspective on nearly every song she tackles, and she does so deftly, with lightness and grace—but also with considerable assurance. She knows what position she wants to take on each selection and how to put her point across. Song after song, I found myself with such thoughts as “I’ve never heard that take before,” or “the song works so well this way,” or “what a terrific line delivery.” And while hers is not a big voice, it’s perfectly suited to her subtle approach.

Some examples. While acknowledging the darkness in Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” Patton has opted to focus on the positive—on the fact that we do still have the chance, so not only should we dance, we should enjoy it. I’ve never seen anyone else convey both faces of this song. Her beautifully acted interpretation of Rodgers and Hart’s “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” is devoid of bittersweetness or any hint of rue or remorse; instead, she relishes and delights in her situation—and in every unbowdlerized lyric. And she performs Jerry Herman’s “Before the Parade Passes By” with quiet sincerity and optimism instead of fierce determination. She’s gonna raise the roof and carry on, all right, but it’s not an urgent need; it’s a happy occurrence, cheerfully anticipated. Only at the very end does she allow another possible outcome to cross her mind. In Sondheim’s “Could I Leave You?,” her delivery of the line “And—wait, I’m just beginning!” is at once understated and powerful.

With its references to meeting men in bars and on the Internet, the theme of the show—trying to find romance in contemporary times—fairly invites humor, and throughout the evening, Patton delivers it. She hasn’t written gags or punch lines; rather, she slips in wry comments that come from her antic perspective and take us by surprise. Humor also comes from the way she treats some of the songs. Her approach to a pairing of Randy Newman’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On” and Dave Frishberg’s “Peel Me a Grape” is lighthearted and playfully sexy. And on Dave Guard’s “Scotch and Soda” and Cindy Jordan’s “José Cuervo,” Patton does a delicious and endearing job of becoming tipsy.

As befits her intelligence and wit, her program includes a couple of relatively obscure selections that are comic in tone, but grounded in truth: Steven Lutvak’s “Unexpected Complications” captures the combination of awkwardness, uncertainty, and hope that often characterizes a second date; Alan Menken’s “Ah, Men” points up the ineffectualness of using sex to gloss over deficiencies in a relationship. Both songs are first-rate, and each is performed with an appreciation of its multiple facets.

This extremely satisfying evening was directed by Karen Oberlin. Musical accompaniment is provided at the piano by the orchestra DBA Barry Levitt, who is also the show’s musical director. I’ll curb my enthusiasm for just a moment now: On the first evening of this return engagement, the comedy in the opening number didn’t land, and Patton hadn’t yet quite nailed the second selection. However, these problems fade to insignificance when viewed in light of the entire show. Besides, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve since been corrected.


About the Author

Roy Sander has been covering cabaret and theatre for over thirty years. He’s written cabaret and theatre reviews, features, and commentary for seven print publications, most notably Back Stage, and for CitySearch on the Internet. He covered cabaret monthly on “New York Theatre Review” on PBS TV, and cabaret and theatre weekly on WLIM-FM radio. He was twice a guest instructor at the London School of Musical Theatre. A critic for, he is also the site’s Reviews Editor; in addition, he is Chairman of the Advisory Board of MAC.