Deborah Stone: Chiaroscuro

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Deborah Stone


Pangea, NYC, June 16, 2022

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Deborah Stone
Photo: Helane Blumfield

“Chiaroscuro” is an artist’s term that refers to the contrast of light and shadow in a drawing or painting, an effect created by light falling unevenly or from a particular direction on a subject. In the elegant Deborah Stone’s new cabaret show at Pangea, the same term is applied to the human experience with powerful effect. The diva explained that the enforced shutdown that resulted from the pandemic caused her to seek out beauty in a time of darkness. The result was a varied selection of songs from Billy Joel (“This Is the Time”) to Sting (“Moon Over Bourbon Street”) to Rodgers and Hart (“Little Girl Blue”) that both enchanted and moved the audience. Guided by the assured and light hand of director Lina Koutrakos, with fine musical support from music director/pianist John Cook and bassist Tom Hubbard, the star delivered a touching and often moody evening.

She began with a sprightly and imaginative opening that blended an eclectic bouquet of songs from Broadway—“There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This,” “The Miller’s Son,” “Join the Circus,” “Never Will I Marry,” and several more.
With her sleek black gown, her subtle but theatrical jewelry, and her insolent humor, Stone seems to be a natural successor to Julie Wilson.

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Her version of Sting’s “Moon Over Bourbon Street” was marked by her ability to specify the lyrics so that the audience can see things the way she does. At the same time, she torched the blues with such subtle power that one might expect the room to catch on fire from her icy underplaying. Who would have expected that the same torchy powers could be found in a song from Annie Warbucks, but find them she did in “It Would Have Been Wonderful.”

Of course, there was plenty of light in the show as well, even if the dark did seem to dominate. The classic “Bluesette” was given a lightly swinging delivery that conveyed an eagerness for happiness that had Stone bouncing on her toes. What a hysterical discovery was Audrey Appleby’s “Picasso Woman,” a celebration of asymmetry in life that also tied into the singer’s association with the art world. “Hot in Here” (Amanda McBroom) was the pure definition of “sultriness.” Stone’s very surprising “The Ladies Who Lunch” overflowed with brilliant choices that took it far away from the Elaine Stritch/Patti LuPone mode; “everybody dies” became an ironic joke rather than a terrifying prophecy. It proved how a theatrical standard could be reinvented for the cabaret stage.

Stone completed the evening with a gentle and touching version of “Something Good.” The song’s title was, in effect, a major undervaluation of a show that was truly something wonderful.

Bart Greenberg

Bart Greenberg first discovered cabaret a few weeks after arriving in New York City by seeing Julie Wilson and William Roy performing Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter outdoors at Rockefeller Center. It was instant love for both Ms. Wilson and the art form. Some years later, he was given the opportunity to create his own series of cabaret shows while working at Tower Records. "Any Wednesday" was born, a weekly half-hour performance by a singer promoting a new CD release. Ann Hampton Callaway launched the series. When Tower shut down, Bart was lucky to move the program across the street to Barnes & Noble, where it thrived under the generous support of the company. The series received both The MAC Board of Directors Award and The Bistro Award. Some of the performers who took part in "Any Wednesday" include Barbara Fasano and Eric Comstock, Tony Desare, Andrea Marcovicci, Carole Bufford, the Karens, Akers, Mason and Oberlin, and Julie Wilson. Privately, Greenberg is happily married to writer/photographer Mark Wallis, who as a performance artist in his native England gathered a major following as "I Am Cereal Killer."