Livestream Review: Dawn Derow “Gypsy in My Soul—The Music of Eydie Gormé”

June 7, 2021

After more than a year’s drought, cabarets are finally reopening. And that’s very good news.

I wasn’t able to get to Birdland to see Dawn Derow in her show Gypsy in My Soul—the Music of Eydie Gormé, but I was able to stream it the very next night. Obviously, streaming can’t compare to sitting in a room, with the energy of an audience and the ambiance of the room adding to the cabaret experience.

Dawn Derow as Eydie Gormé  Photo: Helane Blumfield

Derow is talented and has a very strong voice,  and she displayed a terrific rapport with the audience. However, she seemed a bit nervous at the beginning and overcompensated by singing full force. Throughout the act, she kept herself physically safely in the crook of the piano.

The show is a tribute to Eydie Gormé, who enjoyed a long career, both on her own and with her husband, Steve Lawrence. One of Gormé’s major assets was her sense of humor and playfulness, especially with Lawrence, and Derow’s performance could have used more of that.

Singer tributes can be tricky.  Some singers feel they have to give us chunks of biography throughout the set; when that happens, the act can end up teetering on the edge of being a Wikipedia article. When Derow repeatedly gave us biographical data between songs, it broke the mood. It would have been preferable to have a biographical note in a program, or to give the audience a brief introduction after the opening number.

She started the show on a strong note and kept up the intensity, relying on the power of her voice. She needed to pace herself with highs and lows, differing the tempo between songs and surprising us.  Musical director Ian Herman supported her on piano, but his arrangements were often note-heavy where a lighter accompaniment might have served her better. The bigness of the accompaniment and the impassioned singing on every number felt thick and heavy.

Around the middle of the set there was a notable change, much for the better.

Jeff Harnar, who directed the show, is a consummate professional who’s always relaxed and comfortable on stage, and when he joined Derow, the show lightened up. Derow was clearly having fun with the duet and her relaxation showed. Danny Bacher followed, joining the singer for a delightful rendition of “Two Lost Souls” (Richard Adler, Jerry Ross). He then picked up the sax and accompanied Derow on “I’ll Take Romance” (Ben Oakland, Oscar Hammerstein II).  It’s not the kind of song that asks for a big ending, but Derow gave it a rousing ending, singing  higher and higher, unfortunately bringing down the good, relaxed feelings we had.

But that was an aberration. She gave a knowing rendition of  “The Gentleman Is a Dope” (Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II). She was on a roll with a beautiful interpretation of  “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You” (Jule Styne, Frank Loesser).  “The Coffee Song” (Bob Hilliard, Dick Miles) has some wonderful lyrics, but it seemed that Derow focused on only the notes and not the lyric.

The next couple of songs were dramatic and emotional and hit all the buttons. But the loud crescendo at the end of  “If He Walked Into My Life” (Jerry Herman) ruined the mood. Sometimes a soft finish can be much more dramatic than a loud one.

Finally, there was the requisite big finale, and the audience applauded mightily. That was a natural end to the evening. But,  there was one more song, which proved redundant. Too many cabaret acts don’t know when to finish on a high note with the audience wanting more.

If Derow learns to relax, doesn’t give every song all she’s got, and just has a good time with the audience, this act can be a winner.

Ken Bloom

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