Metropolitan Room – July 7, 14, 23
Tall, slim and stunning, with exotic dark eyes and a Colgate smile—that’s the first thing you notice as Melanie Stace takes the stage. As she starts to sing, you hear the confidence of experience, a secure tone, long vocal lines, trained breath control and a vibrant belt that stirs you to sit up and take notice. Glancing around the audience, she makes eye contact, smiling and upbeat. It looks like Melanie Stace has everything she needs for cabaret stardom.
She has already reached a measure of stardom in Britain, where she is co-presenter on BBC Television’s The Generation Game and The Royal Variety Performance. She has a theatre and concert career, touring Britain in Crazy For You and Hot Shoe Shuffle and starring as Lola in Copacabana (Barry Manilow, Bruce Sussman, Jack. Feldman) in the West End. She performed in Europe at the Vienna Palazzo, and on these shores she has appeared for five years at Teatro ZinZanni in Seattle and San Francisco, as well as at San Francisco’s Rrazz Room.
Living now in New York, Stace is steppin’ out in a Metropolitan Room debut with an eclectic mix of songs. These include standards by Rodgers and Hart, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter, and also less familiar songs like the country sound of Tony Hiller and Byron Hill’s “1942.” “Steppin’ Out” is out to offer something for everyone.
Early in this show, however, it becomes apparent that Melanie Stace is an actress/singer, and you can emphasize “actress.” She allows her musical theatre acting to get in the way of intimate song interpretations. Spontaneity is absent. Every facial and physical movement is studied, the arm movement, the turn of her head, her change of position. As meticulously as she vocalizes the song, the intent is clearly being acted and never felt. Rodgers and Hart’s “Ten Cents a Dance,” for example, calls for characterization, and Stace takes on the attitude of a worn-out dance hall hostess, but she then throws in a shattering, and unnecessary, vocal climax. There is no persuasive sustained mood, no heart to the character, and no emotion evoked in the listener.
Stace does not seem at ease with her patter. She points to the mirror ball and says, “This is the mirror ball section, songs I like to call my mirror ball songs.” To me, candlelight, rather than a mirror ball, seems more appropriate for a torch song interlude. The pairing of “I Should Care” (Sammy Cahn, Axel Stordahl, Paul Weston) and “I Can’t Get Started With You” (Vernon Duke, Ira Gershwin) is awkward.
Also, as pretty as her smile is, it should be dimmed for the wrist-slashers. In Irving Berlin’s “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” Stace seems more intent on evoking Rosemary Clooney’s iconic version in White Christmas than in communicating her own feelings about the song. It is not that Stace is unable to do intimate. Another ballad, Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” is more laid-back and convincing in its simplicity, and the highpoint of the show is her rendition of “God Bless the Child,” (Billie Holiday, Arthur Herzog, Jr.), with toned-down acting and a lovely accompaniment by Tony Romano on guitar.
Stace is vivacious and fun to watch with up-tempo songs like Jay Livingston and Ray Evans’s “Stuff Like That There” and her pull-out-the-stops rendition of “Birth of the Blues” (Ray Henderson, Buddy DeSilva, Lew Brown).
Musical director and pianist Doug Oberhamer has provided creative arrangements for the show, and his own piano accompaniments give strong support to the songs. With Jean-Pierre Perreaux’s lighting, Oberhamer’s keyboard flavoring creates a suitably blue mood to Stace’s saloon-song rendition of James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight.” Completing the instrumental quartet are Romano on guitar, Greg Chudzik on bass, and Eric Halvorson on drums.
A little acting goes a long way when interpreting a song. Melanie Space has the goods to deliver a stellar show on any sized stage, but in a cabaret, I would like to see her more “close up and personal,” with a stress on “personal.” Right now, we know very little about what Melanie Stace is really like beyond her resume.