54 Sings Ingrid Michaelson

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54 Sings Ingrid Michaelson

Feinstein’s/54 Below, September 4, 2017

Reviewed by Victoria Ordin for Cabaret Scenes

Ingrid Michaelson

The long-running series at Feinstein’s/54 Below, 54 Sings…, has never disappointed me. But even by the high bar set when Broadway performers and the best musicians in the city get together on a Monday night to interpret—rather than merely to cover—songs by pop or indie rock stars, 54 Sings Ingrid Michaelson was a home run.

Hosted by Matt Rodin, the evening was billed as “group therapy,” complete with lighthearted “musical bingo,” in which audience members were asked to match Michaelson hits with descriptions several words long. The performances were uniformly excellent, but to a diehard fan of the singer-songwriter’s music, it was a thrill to hear singers of this caliber bring such technical prowess to these poignant ballads and pop anthems.

Though the band slightly drowned out his vocals, Chris McCarrell (Les Misérables; The Lightning Thief) set the tone nicely with the “The Chain,” a melancholy piano ballad from Everybody (2009). Two tracks from from the songwriter’s 2014 release, Lights Out, were moving. Kristin Stokes (The Lightning Thief) infused “Open Hands” with an appropriate restlessness, punctuated by Josh Roberts’ excellent percussion. Julia Rose Hines and Jude McCormick (who appeared together in Jude and the Mountain) sang a haunting duet of “Over You,” one of the great break-up songs of the past decade. Hines and McCormick were faithful to the harmonies of the original, which featured Great Big World, but made the song their own.
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In her Feinstein’s/54 Below debut, Christiana Perrault set the room on fire with her rendition of “Starting Now,” which shifted effortlessly from pop to jazz (scat) to soul. A relatively recent New York transplant who chopped off her hair and moved to the city to pursue her dreams, she has a powerful stage presence. My friend leaned over and whispered simply, “Star quality.” The excellent band—Rachel Gawell on cello, Roberts on drums, and Brandon Rosiar on bass—was in the zone on the song brilliantly arranged by musical director Peter van Reeseema.

In the evening’s second duet, Alex Finke (Les Misérables; Sweeney Todd)—whose voice more closely evokes Michaelson’s than any singer in the show except that of Kathryn Gallagher—performed the spare “Are We There Yet?” with McCarrell. Like much of Michaelson’s material, the song is about a longing for home (whether in a person or a place).

 But “Are We There Yet?” has the signature simplicity of the songwriter’s early work, for which she became famous, largely thanks to Grey’s Anatomy (and specifically, its musical director, Alexandra Patsavas). Many indie rock/pop stars, including sometime Michaelson collaborator Sara Bareilles, a fellow singer-songwriter who wrote the score for Broadway’s Waitress, and Snow Patrol (whose “Chasing Cars” was featured in a pivotal episode) owe their careers to the medical drama.

George Salazar (The Lightning Thief; Be More Chill) presented one of the few uptempo songs of the evening, “Do It Now,” while Jeff Heimbrook (Wicked; Book of Mormon) impressed with “Die Alone,” prefaced by a “carpe diem” account of time spent traveling alone in France. The always entertaining Natalie Walker (The Puffs) offered a great mash-up of “Maybe” and “Sonya Alone,” before the third and final duet of the evening, “The Way I Am.
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” I’ve always thought this was a hokey (though wildly successful song), but Kaitlyn Frank and Dave Thomas Brown did it credit. Accompanying herself on guitar, Kathryn Gallagher (Spring Awakening), sang a raw and beautiful “Sort Of.” In her flowing, patterned outfit, she evoked Joni Mitchell and the tradition of folk-rock singers of which Michaelson is part.

(Gallagher got a big laugh when she joked that instead of saying “Fuck you” to people who mistreat her, she just writes a “really mean song” about the person in question.) A rousing ensemble finale of “You and I” brought the touchy-feely, but not maudlin, evening to a close.