Jenn Bornstein: Diary of a Pizza Bagel’s Daughter

  • Post author:
  • Reading time:2 mins read

Jenn Bornstein

Diary of a Pizza Bagel’s Daughter

Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, February 23, 2024

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Jenn Bornstein
Photo: Natasha Castillo

Jenn Bornstein brought energy and flair to Don’t Tell Mama with her autobiographical show Diary of a Pizza Bagel’s Daughter. As a tribute to her father, it achieved her goals; he was a half-Jewish, half-Italian larger-than-life personality who was her biggest fan. Her clever mashup of “Tradition” and “Mambo Italiano” illustrated his background perfectly and showed smart theatrical know-how. That special taste would reappear throughout the evening in a lovely blend of “I See the Light” and “Candle on the Water” and in a sultry interpretation of “Sweet Dreams” and “I Put a Spell on You.” The program wasn’t perfect, but it was very smart.

Bornstein had the guidance of director Lennie Watts and with the support of an ace musical team: music director Aiden Davis, guitarist Lindsay Burstedt, and bassist Matt Scharfglass. (Some of the musical arrangements credited to Watts, Bornstein and Steven Ray Watkins.) Bornstein shared a terrific range of tales about her relationship with her father that were by turns touching and hysterical. These formed a great framework for the variety of styles of music she performed, from her brash opening mix of “Welcome to My Party” and “I Love Being Here with You” to songs credited in part to Janet Jackson, Tori Amos, Rachel Bloom, and ABBA.

What Bornstein needs to work on is on her connection to her lyrics. She had great fun with weird comedy numbers such as “Disneyland” (Willem Oosthuysen/Bill Nelson) or high camp such as her “Jukebox Medley” (her father brought home an authentic jukebox loaded with a wild mix of recordings that this clever hodgepodge paid tribute to). But when it came to her ballads—“How to Return Home” (Kait Kerrigan/Bree Lowdermilk) and “Watershed” (Emily Saliers)—she needed to dig deeper into herself to find personal meanings in the words. Bornstein already has mapped out a place for herself in the cabaret world; it will now be interesting to see how she grows as a performer.

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."