Singer Lisa Viggiano lives in New Jersey, so it is de rigueur that she be a Bruce Springsteen fan. But she feels a closer kinship to “the boss” than many others do, a kinship she celebrates in her new show, Lisa Viggiano Sings Bruce. She enlists the aid of Matt Scharfglass on guitar; he is usually her bassist, but he proves to be as accomplished on guitar and offers great support throughout.
The show gets off to a shaky start. A choice was made to peel away the harsh, hard exterior of some of the slower numbers and concentrate on the softness beneath. This resulted in a sameness of sound and delivery. The first number, “Hungry Heart,” loses the double-edged punch of regret and freedom that informs the story. Slowing it down and removing the sense of abandon and escape do not serve the song well, especially as an opener. The thrill and liberation of “Born to Run” are sacrificed for contemplation. This is followed by a lifeless “Meeting Across the River” that is done in such broad strokes that it telegraphs the downward spiral of the story in the first line. The audience should gradually realize the desperate and empty delusion of the protagonist. The protagonist can’t be that self-aware; the tragedy requires his belief in the big score he hopes to make.
My trepidation began to disappear when Viggiano jumped feet first into “The River.” Setting up the song with some revealing biographical information, she strikes just the right balance of energy and pathos. Taking a break from Springsteen, she then presents a tribute to John Hammond, the man responsible for “discovering” Bruce as well as Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, and many others. The singer knocks each one of these selections out of the park and left me hoping for a Hammond tribute show in her future. “Sing, Sing, Sing” (Louis Prima) lets her swing like crazy. “Good Morning Heartache” (Irene Higginbotham, Ervin Drake, Dan Fisher) shows an unusually mature and sophisticated side of her vocals that was a special delight. “Think” (Franklin, Teddy White) cooks with all the energy missing from the earlier numbers. Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” is filled with warmth and heart.
The remaining Springsteen songs, barring a few missteps, stay on this high plateau. “Fire” is great fun, with a sexy trip into the audience. “The Wrestler” (from the film of the same name) is one of the discoveries of the set and a real find. A spirited and exciting “Mary’s Place” really works, and it leads into a revelatory “Thunder Road,” which lives and breathes and goes deeper into the story than other versions I’ve heard. It’s a memorable closer.
Tanya Moberly makes good use of the unusual voice/guitar set up on stage (helped by Lisa Moss’s lights) but should work a bit more with the singer on some of the patter, which seems more like bullet points than conversation.
I’m left with the wish that Viggiano had gone to Bruce a bit more and brought Bruce to her a bit less. Still, a singer this good is always worth a visit, and there are many pleasures to be had. And I will continue to dream of that John Hammond show!
Lisa Viggiano Sings Bruce
The Duplex – February 24, 25 April 14
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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?”