Sara Jean Ford: An Evening with the Aging Ingenue

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Sara Jean Ford

An Evening with the Aging Ingenue

The Green Room 42, NYC, September 22, 2023

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Sara Jean Ford

Sara Jean Ford may identify as an “aging ingenue,” but nothing in her marvelous voice and a fine interpretations of the lyrics comes close to the suggesting that she is even slightly past her expiration date. But then, the show was not about herself; it was about her YouTube creation, Claire Cook—more about that in a bit. Her voice soared on a smart pairing of “Home” from Maury Yeston’s Phantom and “Think of Me” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s version (in which she played the role of Christine Daaé on Broadway). Her crystalline voice and immaculate enunciation, coupled with an actor’s ability to illuminate lyrics, made every song of the evening a highlight. The charming “How Lovely to Be a Woman,” the slyly sardonic “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore,” and terrific set in tribute to somewhat masochistic/man-controlled musical heroines that included “Something Wonderful,” “What’s the Use of Wonderin’,” and “As Long as He Needs Me,” were all presented without irony or commentary.

The problem with the show was there was either too little or too much about Claire. She seemed to be present to make sardonic comments about the material (like Sabina’s out-of-character complaints in The Skin of Our Teeth) along with a few stray references to a vile ex-husband. There was no on-stage explanation for who she was (beyond the introduction), and for audience members not familiar with the YouTube series it was mystifying and, much worse, distancing.

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If Ford wants her show to be a character-driven evening, she needs to spend more time developing and presenting her alter ego to the audience.

The music direction throughout was provided by the excellent pianist David Hancock Turner. Tasteful vocal backup was sung by Georgia Mendes and Andrea Jones Sojola; the latter took an exciting solo on a contemporary version of “Almost There” (Gloria Shayne/Jack Keller) that added some variety to the evening. The show was directed and co-written by Cameron Dingwall, who does that for the YouTube series. The program certainly ran smoothly and professionally and held the audience’s attention. Even though the concept requires some retooling, no improvement is needed on Ford’s thrilling delivery of “Back to Before” and or her non-ironic take on “Maybe” from Annie. It will be interesting to see what developments Ford and her colleagues will bring to the show.

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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."