“An Intimate Evening with a Woman Your Mom Warned You About”
Metropolitan Room – August 31
The aptly named Storm Large blew through town the week after Hurricane Irene’s brush with Manhattan. She touched ground at the Metropolitan Room, where she gusted for an hour or so at winds reaching at least 150 miles per hour.
Large doesn’t stage the kind of cabaret act you see every day. I haven’t experienced a fraction of what some of my Bistro Awards colleagues have experienced at the Metropolitan Room. But I’ll bet that they never beheld the spectacle of the diva du jour bringing a female audience member onto the stage, turning her over her knee and administering a lascivious birthday spanking while the crowd raucously counted out each stroke. The swats stopped at a mere 15, although the spank‑ee was clearly beyond her teenage years. Storm knows when to leave her audience—and, presumably, her game birthday celebrants—wanting more.
The tall Portland, Oregon-based singer made her entrance holding what appeared to be a goblet of red wine (she later ordered a martini from the stage) and wearing a full-length red gown that exposed much of her bare back and the large tattoo emblazoned thereon. She said she was used to playing in dives, that the room seemed amazingly clean, and that she wasn’t sure that the staff knew what they were getting into when they engaged her for a one-night-stand. Proudly profane and gawky, she clearly got mileage out of her bull-in-a-China-shop situation.
Large has an enormous gale-like voice, obviously suited for rock and blues. She led, though, with a dreamily romantic song that she said she’d recently written, called “Buy the Moon.” (“All the songs are true, those sappy songs,” the lyrics told us.) Caterwauling may be a Storm Large specialty, but from the outset of her set, she showed that she is capable of considerable nuance and range.
She followed with a couple of standards, beginning with “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Perhaps inspired by some of the pop-singing variations on Cole Porter’s work in the 2004 film De-Lovely, Large kept Porter’s lyrics, but set them to a winding alternative melody that emphasized the obsessive side of love (a recurring theme throughout the evening). The bridge of the song turned angry—no, hostile—until Large reached the word “stop” in the line “the thought of you makes me stop before I begin.” That magic word snapped her back into meandering-moan gear. Large has apparently mapped out her performances with the detail-oriented diligence of an art-song singer.
Kander & Ebb’s “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret came next. (Large played Sally Bowles in a Portland Center Stage production in 2007.) She prefaced the performance by remarking that although she once scoffed at traditional show music, she has since learned to respect it. Her straightforward performance worked for the most part, but her rocker’s technique emerged in the final stretch of the song, which was jarring for those like me who hold the Liza Minnelli rendition as the standard. Bellowing is not quite the same thing as belting.
The show grew rowdier as the evening progressed. It hardly seemed that Large needed to let her hair down mid-show—but she did, both figuratively and literally. Shaking out a blond tangle, she asked, “Do I look like a Stepford wife at a key party?”
As a native Oregonian, I’ve heard Portland friends rave about Large for years, and I’ve heard some of her recordings, notably her pro-sex feminist anthem, “8 Miles Wide” (“My vagina is 8 miles wide/ Absolutely everyone can come inside”). As her show spun along, I found I liked much of what she did, but she didn’t totally win me over until late in the program, with another pair of songs about obsessive love. On Elvis Costello’s “I Want You,” she explored the madness of physical longing as her collaborator James Beaton thrashed on the piano. She looked (and sometimes almost sounded) like Linda Blair / Mercedes McCambridge battling exorcist Max von Sydow, until she all but dropped into a depleted heap. And then, with “Hopelessly Devoted to You” (John Farrar) from Grease, she deconstructed and ridiculed the passions she’d just mined. It was like going to a production of Medea and then sticking around for the similarly themed satyr play.
Toward the end of the show, Large sang some appetite-whetting numbers from her autobiographical one-woman show, Crazy Enough (including “8 Miles Wide”). The show is overdue for an off-Broadway run. (Large’s outdated Wikipedia page says that such an engagement is scheduled for spring 2011.) If the enthusiasm of the audience at the Metropolitan Room was a good indicator, Crazy Enough would be a hot New York ticket indeed.
About the Author
Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. He began writing reviews for BistroAwards.com in 2011. More recently he has contributed "Cabaret Setlist" articles about cabaret repertoire. Other reviews and articles have appeared in theaterscene.net and clydefitchreport.com, as well as in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival. He is currently literary manager for Broad Horizons Theatre Company.