Beth Leavel

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Beth Leavel

54 Below, NYC, January 8, 2024

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Beth Leavel
Photo: Courtesy of BroadwayWorld

Beth Leavel returned to 54 Below and was welcomed by a sold-out audience that was ready to be entertained—and entertained they were! This high-energy Broadway diva projected an aura of love that was eagerly returned by her audience. A conversation was carried on between her and her audience throughout the evening, especially when she asked for song suggestions. The suggestions varied from “You’re So Vain” to “You’ve Got Trouble” to “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” Her music director, Phil Reno, did everything he could to keep up with the constantly shifting requests that also included a salute to Liza Minnelli with “City Lights” and a spot-on “When You’re Good to Mama.” This was just one of the raucous segments that took place throughout the evening.

Leavel kicked off the evening with a stimulating version of “Broadway Baby,” complete with a flawless Elaine Stritch imitation. Actually, Stritch seemed to be a major influence on her cabaret style, along with Dorothy Loudon, Phyllis Newman, and even Ethel Merman. But somehow it all came together to be uniquely her. A borrowed plantain from a ringside table became a hysterical running bit throughout the evening, showing Leavel’s quick wit and theatrical know-how. It truly seemed that if 54 Below had a chandelier in its gorgeous space, she would have swung on it. And then, almost without warning, she offered a deeply felt “Fifty Percent,” that skillfully built from quiet reflection to glorious defiance and managed to terrify and rejoice at the same time.

Of course, the audience was treated to a bravura performance of Leavel’s Tony-winning solo from The Drowsy Chaperone, “As We Stumble Along,” as well as a terrific story about the day of the awards. Her encore of “The Ladies Who Lunch” landed big because of her specificity in each image created by the lyrics (her powerhouse voice may have had something to do with it too). A blend of “Not While I’m Around” and “Children Will Listen” was given to the crowd as a shimmering present that showed heart-breaking vulnerability. This balance of sensitivity and Broadway brass made for a very exciting evening of cabaret.

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."