“Spend an Evening with Grace”
Metropolitan Room – April 29, 30, May 2, 4, June 8, 23
The theme of Grace Cosgrove’s Metropolitan Room show, she tells us, is “the delicate experience of love.” There’s something appropriately delicate about her singing, too. At least that’s what I thought after listening to her first few selections. She took a gently swinging approach to her opener, “Devil May Care” (Bob Dorough, Terrell P. Kirk, Jr.), and followed it up with a similarly smooth and relatively laid-back medley: Cole Porter’s “All of You” and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Some Enchanted Evening” (the latter sung to a quietly thumping samba beat). Her approach seemed measured and introspective—I got the sense that she was truly considering the lyrics as she sang them. She joked at one point about the challenge of living up to a name like “Grace”—saying she was fortunate she hadn’t instead been named “Prudence” or “Patience.” But I sensed that she is more than conversant with those virtues also.
Cosgrove punched things up a bit with her take on Porter’s “Too Darn Hot.” I especially liked the explosion that she created on the word “fight” in the line “Brother, you fight my baby tonight.” Unfortunately she added some occasion-specific new lyrics toward the end of the number that were lacking in Porterian wit and grammatical precision (I honestly believe she sang the line “When I saw you, I’m on fire.” I’m hoping it was a one-time slip.)
After two more pleasant but not especially memorable selections, Cosgrove turned to a mini-set of Laura Nyro songs (she recently recorded a whole album of Nyro’s music.) Moving beyond the traditional Great American Songbook style, Cosgrove brought out a much richer, fuller sound. On “Luckie” she slipped comfortably into Nyro’s bouncy, jagged rhythmic patterns, her voice flaring pleasingly with the song’s surges of emotionality. The thoughtfully arranged “I Never Meant to Hurt You” allowed her to savor the sadness of the lyrics, with musical director Don Rebic playing quiet, contemplative chords on the piano. By mid-song, bassist Jason DiMatteo and drummer Danny Mallon had joined in; DiMatteo then bowed a lovely melancholy phrase to accompany her in the song’s final moments. Concluding the Nyro sequence was “He’s a Runner,” which has got to be one of the songwriter’s most gorgeous, heart-rending gems. As Cosgove sang it, the song was a warning that turned to a lament. On the phrase “till I die,” Cosgrove let fly a cluster of stunningly belted notes that I was unprepared for. We in the audience had exercised Patience; Cosgrove had stopped worrying so much about Prudence. And Grace, indeed, had emerged.
The rest of the evening was a mix of older standards and newer titles. Sometimes the arrangements seemed a bit off, as with “(Theme from) Valley of the Dolls” (André and Dory Previn). The vocals were creamy, but the pace and attitude of the accompaniment seemed wrong. I missed the haunting quality of Dionne Warwick’s famous recording of the song.
I wish that Rebic and the show’s director, Marilyn Maye, had steered Cosgrove away from quite so many medleys. Particularly unsuccessful was a trio of Burt Bacharach and Hal David songs (“Anyone Who Had a Heart,” “Don’t Make Me Over” and “Walk On By”). The melodies were stitched together in a self-conscious way that left the promise of each song unfulfilled.
Still, I was happy that Cosgrove’s singing grew so much more robust as the set progressed. Contrary to what I thought at first, delicacy is just one segment of her vocal spectrum. By the time of her encore (or “bonus,” as she called it), Jim Doris’s “Oh Me Oh My,” Cosgrove’s voice seemed much hardier than at the top of the program. It suggested the straightforward beauty of Karen Carpenter’s singing: the gentleness but also the steel-enforced steadiness.
What Cosgrove will do with that voice in future endeavors is an exciting prospect. I’ll eagerly anticipate her next engagement. In the meantime, sign me up for that Nyro collection of hers.
About the Author
Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. He began writing reviews for BistroAwards.com in 2011. More recently he has contributed "Cabaret Setlist" articles about cabaret repertoire. Other reviews and articles have appeared in theaterscene.net and clydefitchreport.com, as well as in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival. He is currently literary manager for Broad Horizons Theatre Company.