“Josephine Peacock Is Back…For the Very First Time,” which debuted recently at Don’t Tell Mama, had the various elements one often finds in a “first time” cabaret, such as the excitement of watching a good singer stretch her talent to reach an audience and deliver songs that she has wanted to sing for some time. There are also a number of the pitfalls that a novice often experiences taking her first steps on the cabaret stage.
Let’s start with the good stuff. Peacock has a solid, emotion-filled voice that wraps around a good song in a classic way, and when she got to just sing, she proved a natural, captivating storyteller. A pairing of “Haunting” (Carly Simon) and “Haunted Heart” (Dietz &Schwartz) showed her simply telling the story she had fashioned with the medley. We hung on every emotional word. Music director Steven Ray Watkins contributed sensitive, moving accompaniment on this number.
A big-band medley, built around “Singin’ with the Big Bands” (Barry Manilow, Bruce Sussman) gave a hint of what a delight it would be for her to explore this area more fully. Her fun singing classics of the American Songbook was infectious and she can swing. She is confident and at ease on stage and was obviously enjoying herself being up there with Watkins, and Donna Kelly on drums and Ted Stafford on bass, who offered sparkling support on this number. With “Anyway” (Martina McBride, Brad Warren, Brett Warren) she dipped into country a bit and proved equally adept in that genre. She also sang James Slater’s “My Daughter’s Eyes” with similar success.
Unfortunately the show suffered from over-production. Lost in a sea of instruments and backup singers, Peacock was overwhelmed much of the time. She was so busy pushing herself to hold her own with the group that she lost her individuality in a wash of sound. This has been happening far too often in beginning shows lately. In addition, the comedy bits were forced, prop heavy, and not in keeping with the performer we had been watching.
It is rarely a good idea to parody Sondheim, and Peacock’s own reworking of “Not Getting Married Today” was no exception, filled as it was with personal references to her husband that got a rise from her friends and family but were lost on the rest of us. That same presumption of familiarity weakened her patter as well. Her overly effusive delivery did not help matters either, and these for-the-most-part quite ordinary revelations were more suited to coffee in the afternoon than on a stage in a professional show. Again, this is a quite common occurrence with fledgling cabaret performers.
The finale of the show was a medley of Clifton Davis’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” and Paul Jabara’s “Last Dance.” It should have been joyous but was more like glorified karaoke with the singer again lost in the sound.
I wish that we could have spent the hour with the more intimate performer that revealed herself to us in those moments I mention at the beginning of the review. She was a different singer with a different energy, and even a different sound. I wish that director Lennie Watts had been able to smooth out the edges and let this Josephine Peacock be more present throughout the evening. Fortunately that’s what second shows are for.
Josephine Peacock Is Back…For the Very First Time
Don’t Tell Mama – October 2, 7, 28
About the Author
Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”