Stacie Perlman

August 14, 2012

“The Story Underneath”

Metropolitan Room – July 10, July 31, August 14

When she competed in last year’s MetroStar Talent Challenge, Stacie Perlman made a strong and at times dazzling impression. Relatively new to cabaret, having worked previously mainly in theatre, she combined an uncommonly perceptive and expressive acting ability with her manifest singing talent to deliver song interpretations that had the texture and eloquence of theatre pieces. I was not alone in finding her work exceptional, for in a field of over fifty contestants, she placed first runner-up. Now, a year later, she’s making her solo cabaret debut.

Her offering, “The Story Underneath,” which she co-wrote with the show’s director, Rob Langeder, presents fifteen musical numbers, all but the opener and the encore set in the framework of a fairy tale that Perlman narrates. The story centers around Maggie, a young woman who moves to New York, gets a job working at a bodega in Brooklyn, and winds up wandering through a fantasy in which she comes across a succession of famous fairy tale characters. (Rather a fairy tale within a fairy tale.) Throughout the evening, Perlman is aided by two engaging backup singers, Melody Baugh and Alissa Hunnicutt.

The show has a motif and a moral. The motif is the contrast between the fairy tale events as we know them and the rather-less-pleasant things that “actually” transpired—hence, “The Story Underneath,” which is also the title of the commendable song that musical director/pianist Jason Wynn has written for the occasion. The moral—the secret to triumphing over the obstacles that life can throw in your way—is that if you believe in something and work for it, it will happen.

One of the early musical selections is Laura Jansen’s “Wicked World,” in which the old woman who owns the gingerbread house of Hansel & Gretel fame tells Maggie that the world is wicked and filled with disappointment. Perlman is splendid singing it as the old woman, and the arrangement has more depth and cynicism than does the songwriter’s own version. In Perlman’s fairly tale, far from running away from the wolf, Red Riding Hood is trying to find him—which leads to the catchy vocal trio “Oh, Wolfie” (Ed Rose and Abe Olman’s 1917 hit, “Oh Johnnie, Oh Johnnie, Oh!,” which was modified to “Oh, Wolfie” for Tex Avery’s 1945 animated cartoon short Swing Shift Cinderalla).

With a pairing of Pete Townshend’s “Behind Blue Eyes” and Sting’s “King of Pain,” Perlman does an excellent job expressing Rumpelstiltskin’s bitterness and pain, starting out dark and dramatic and finishing in drained resignation. “Frog Kissin’” (Buddy Kalb) is an irresistible paean to, yes, kissing frogs, adorably performed by Perlman and Hunnicutt’s frog puppet, and “Winter” is a beautiful Tori Amos song of encouragement, and Perlman sings it beautifully. Perlman is delightful as she jumps for joy on “The Princess Who Saved Herself,” a song described by its writer, Jonathan Coulton, as being about a princess who kicks ass.

Perlman’s singing on all of the other songs is certainly good, and Wynn’s accompaniment is all one could wish—yet, there’s something lacking. Part of the problem might be that a few of those songs are nice enough, but not compelling—so Perlman’s interpretations on those selections might need to dig a layer deeper to compensate. Another part of the problem lies in the yarn she spins. For one thing, it is, or perhaps seems, too long for its usefulness in moving things along and setting up the songs, despite the fact that it does contain some nifty moments—for example, the droll statement the gingerbread house woman makes to put Maggie at ease, and the contrast between the original written fairy tales and their animated film versions. For another, Perlman’s fairy tale is a bit arch, and the moral that one must believe in and work for one’s goals, though admirable, is too platitudinous to justify the story’s length.

I’ve tried to imagine what my opinion of Perlman would have been after seeing this show had I not been familiar with her work. I think I would have come away thinking she’s very good…quite talented. But I don’t think I would have appreciated just how wonderful she is. You see, a video of the performance she delivered on the final evening of last year’s MetroStar competition could be presented to a theatre class or a cabaret workshop with an introduction saying, “This is how it should be done.” That’s what I would like people to say when they come out of her next show.



About the Author

Roy Sander has been covering cabaret and theatre for over thirty years. He’s written cabaret and theatre reviews, features, and commentary for seven print publications, most notably Back Stage, and for CitySearch on the Internet. He covered cabaret monthly on “New York Theatre Review” on PBS TV, and cabaret and theatre weekly on WLIM-FM radio. He was twice a guest instructor at the London School of Musical Theatre. A critic for, he is also the site’s Reviews Editor; in addition, he is Chairman of the Advisory Board of MAC.