April Leonhard Goes to the Movies
Metropolitan Room, NYC, April 3, 2017
Reviewed by Victoria Ordin for Cabaret Scenes
Kentucky-raised April Leonhard kept a small Metropolitan Room audience in stitches as she sang songs from films that influenced her from childhood to the relative present. The charismatic, articulate former MetroStar finalist, who describes herself as a “New York-based singer, actor, and Oxford comma enthusiast,” is as knowledgeable as she is passionate about film.
Exceptionally well-conceived, April Leonhard Goes to the Movies moves seamlessly from music to trivia to personal anecdote. With her talented Musical Director (and fellow Northern Kentucky University grad) Jacob Priddy, Leonhard performs an eclectic mix of music from classic films like Casablanca, White Christmas, A Star Is Born, Goldfinger, The Great Muppet Caper, and The Wizard of Oz, to films of the last twenty or so years, like Team America: World Police, Labyrinth, The First Wives Club, and Harry Potter.
With the confidence of a film critic, she prefaces each song with fresh and often quirky takes on familiar material. It’s refreshing to see young performers in cabaret (early 30s, say) with strong, well-developed views about topics beyond themselves. But it was ever thus with Leonhard.
As a child of the ’90s, she recalls the kidnapping epidemic that led Blockbuster Video to offer parents free two-minute videos of their children in the event of an abduction, so that police had more to go on than a picture. Most kids talked for a minute or two. Little April’s video clocked in at 17 minutes: “For the first five minutes, I refused to talk in anything other than a Coneheads voice, and then, at some point, I thought ‘F*** it. I’m just going to do The Wizard of Oz. And not just The Wizard of Oz, but The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz. And not just The Muppets Wizard of Oz.’ Do you remember the short-lived ABC series Muppets Tonight !? Of course you don’t. I did. I had a vision. I didn’t want to think of some stranger stealing me.”
Naturally dramatic and possessed of an “overactive imagination” (she used to wear the “good pajamas” on nights she thought Peter Pan would pay her a visit), acting was an inevitability. And in April Leonhard Goes to the Movies, she is as at home singing “As Time Goes By” (Herman Hupfeld) as she is “Rainbow Connection” (Paul Williams/Kenny Ascher). Of all the sad songs in the set, this is the one that chokes her up.
Camping it up in “Goldfinger” (John Barry/Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley)—which sounds amusingly dated now—she balances sexiness and self-deprecation. She plays off the audience well, lobbing questions out every so often. No one, including me, knew that Skyfall was the only Bond film to win an Oscar for best song. (I’d have guessed “Nobody Does It Better” from The Spy Who Loved Me or “For Your Eyes Only.”)
The Disney medley, an impressive arrangement of eight songs, is a success, as is the riff on the relative merits of the Muppets versus Disney heroes and heroines: “The Muppets were the wacky, quirky movies chock full of adult jokes. Disney was a bunch of fluffy princesses asserting their strength and power by getting a boyfriend. Give me a bunch of multi-species weirdos any day.” The levity of the medley nicely set up Leonhard’s poignant remarks about David Bowie, her first love, whose death is still a source of sorrow. “As The World Falls Down” was especially resonant in the current political climate.
Leonhard’s voice is powerful yet nuanced. Like many musical theater singers, she sometimes over-belts. But mostly her delivery is on target and, unlike some cabaret singers without real acting training (or natural theatrical talent), the young performer knows how to act a song. (Her most recent theatrical project was the off-Broadway musical about 9/11, Pillars of New York.)
Prefaced with the quip, “Poor Billy Porter, ’90s pop divas stealing all his big breaks,” “Love Is on the Way” (Peter Zizzo/Denise Rich/Tina Shafer”) was beautifully rendered, as was “Sisters” (Irving Berlin), the hilarious duet with equally feisty fellow NKU grad Hannah Dowdy. Leonhard closed with “Hallows,” a Harry Potter parody of Beyoncé’s “Halo” (with parody lyrics by The Maynard Triplets).
After Steve Martin’s character is shot in Grand Canyon (Lawrence Kasdan’s follow-up to The Big Chill), he tells Kevin Kline’s character that all of life’s great problems are solved at the movies. That may not be true, but if intense movie-watching made everyone as insightful, funny, and talented as April Leonhard, the world would be a better place. She’s a smart broad with a helluva voice.