The thought on everyone’s mind was, “Can she sing?” Sure, Edie Falco is a brilliant award-winning actress, who has created the iconic characters Carmela Soprano and Nurse Jackie. She has a loyal following, so it came as no surprise that her debut cabaret performance, with fellow actor Stephen Wallem, billed as The Other Steve and Edie, was before a packed house on February 4 at the Laurie Beechman Theater.
But, can she pull off a cabaret act? Would this show prove to be the start of something big, or a misstep to be quickly forgotten?
Anticipating that there were doubters among us, Falco took the stage, resplendent in a silver satin gown, and squeaked her way through the first few lines of “Over the Rainbow.” But even before she threw off her evening dress to reveal a gold sequined top and tight black pants, we knew we had been had. Yes, Edie can sing and this show revealed another side of this multi-talented performer.
Falco did everything right, beginning with selecting Wallem as her partner. A fellow nurse on Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, Wallem honed his talents as a cabaret performer in Chicago, performing with Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald, Michael Cerveris, and George Hearn, to name a few. And he brought on board the uber talented Beckie Menzie (left), who has been described by the Chicago Tribune as “…indispensable to Chicago cabaret.” Menzie, herself a renowned cabaret performer, not only served as musical director for the show, but accompanied the performers flawlessly on piano, joined by Steve Millhouse on bass and Andy Jones on percussion.
This pair was evenly matched. Whether singing a duet or performing solo, this Steve and Edie commanded the stage. There was a well thought out balance between serious ballads and more humorous pieces, the obvious forte of Wallem, who delighted the crowd with two parodies, one a spoof of “wordy lyrics,” another a takeoff on Wicked’s “Defying Gravity,” changed to “Defying Parody”. Falco’s showstopper was a heartfelt rendition of the Billie Holiday classic, “You’ve Changed.” You’re not the angel I once knew, No need to tell me that we’re through, It’s all over now, You’ve changed.
Performing cabaret demands more than the ability to carry a tune. Many Broadway or classical singers have failed to connect with their audience in the smaller, more intimate venue of cabaret. And nothing turns off a cabaret audience quicker than a wooden performance with no expression or emotion. The “patter” that cabaret aficionados expect often eludes even the best singers.
Good actors know how to connect with an audience during a performance and this Steve and Edie certainly did that. We might have enjoyed having them share with us more personal stories about their journey to the cabaret stage. How did these two decide to pursue a cabaret act together? It was mentioned only in passing. There was little said about the musical selections, and the identification of each song performed was flashed briefly on a projection screen that was difficult to see.
But those shortcomings were minor. This cabaret act was refreshing, bringing two new talents (to cabaret, at least) into the fold. Yes, this Soprano can sing, and we hope she does for a long time.
Top photo, Anna Lisa Fedor