Nicholas Barrón: New York Story Book

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Nicholas Barrón

New York Story Book

The Green Room 42, NYC, April 23, 2024

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Nicholas Barrón
Photo: Shani Hadjian Photography

Making his solo cabaret show debut at The Green Room 42, the young and enthusiastic Nicholas Barrón demonstrated of how he won the Best Lead Actor Jimmy Award in 2022. The evening was a mix of excellent and sometimes problematic moments; hopefully, the problems will be solved with a bit more experience and the guidance of a good director. Barrón is certainly eager to please; he has a strong and flexible voice, a clear delivery of lyrics, and a generosity of spirit that showed in the way he shared the stage with his guests. Despite the title of New York Story Book, the songs he offered had no link to the city, though many were indeed story songs, and were drawn from several generations of pop music, along with some Broadway works. They all seemed to have one thing in common: they were his favorite songs.

He launched the show with a high-energy version of Fiona Apple’s “Better Version of Me.” He moved on to a merger of contemporary sounds and theater with Adam Guettel’s “Hero and Leander” that had plenty of power. Then he reached back to the golden age of musical theater with “I Could Write a Book” (Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart) and mentioned his admiration of Frank Sinatra’s version. These feelings were heavily reflected in his delivery of that standard, both good—the clarity of the lyrics—and less than good—his the approximate version of the melody.

Barrón then introduced the first of his vocal guest artists, the Jimmy Award winner Kendall Becerra. Obviously, going through the competition together bonded them, and they shared “Afternoon” from Alice by Heart by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik. It was a lovely, quiet moment presented by two fine young singers. Quiet continued in Barrón going solo on “Heaven” (David Byrne) with only Jerry Ulinchny’s guitar accompaniment. Because much of the show was seriously (though very well) overly orchestrated by music director Alex Gutierrez with seven musicians on stage, this relaxed change of pace was welcome.

Barrón next turned to an unexpected work, “Ancash’s Song,” which was very personal to him because it was written by his sister Olivia, and it was a indeed a very fine number; we will be hearing more from this lyricist/composer. His predilection for “melancholy musicals” led him to deliver Jason Robert Brown’s “One Second and a Million Miles,” joined by his second guest star, Jade, who possessed a rich voice. They both delivered the song with a great deal of passion. Claiming he is also drawn to music theater songs written for “old White women,” he offered “Losing My Mind” (Stephen Sondheim); he built it well, but he is just too young to be performing this number. Much more successful was Sondheim’s “Finishing the Hat,” and even more so was his compassionate “Meadowlark” (Stephen Schwartz), which he delivered with surprising tenderness. He brought the evening to a close with his version of “Make Someone Happy” (Jule Styne/Betty Comden & Adolph Green), or rather Judy Garland’s version, which he copied for the phrasing and emphasis just as he had done earlier with “I Could Write a Book” à la Sinatra.

Barrón is an unquestionably talented performer, but for cabaret he must better define himself and concentrate on offering his own personality to the audience. Simplifying what he does by using fewer musicians, fewer guest stars, and not attempting to channel his musical heroes would go a great way toward reaching this goal. A strong director would also aid him considerably.

The musicians, in addition to Gutierrez at the piano and Ulinchny on guitar, were Ken O’Rourke on drums, Tom Brody on bass, Marybeth Mackay on violin, Hannah Selin on viola, and Malachi Brown on cello.