Heather Parcells & Diane Phelan: A Friendship Unhinged

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Heather Parcells & Diane Phelan

A Friendship Unhinged

Chelsea Table + Stage, NYC, May 19, 2024

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Heather Parcells and Diane Phelan

Heather Parcells and Diane Phelan are two lovely women who possess very similar and impressive soprano voices, along with a good deal of charm and senses of humor. As friends of many years, they decided to do a cabaret show together. About their friendship. You see, they’re friends, but unfortunately, that was the sum total of what the show was about. They used the word “friends” several dozen times, but we never heard anything deeper. Husbands were referred to, as well as a falling out between them, with no details mentioned (seemingly just so they could do a “Break Up Medley”). There were a few vague audition stories. This was truly a case of a bad show happening to good people.

The evening started off promisingly enough with a mash-up of “Raise the Roof” and “The Life of the Party” (both by Andrew Lippa) while the singers cavorted through the audience. On-target revised lyrics (provided by their director Joe Langworth) that advised the audience to “put your cell phones on vibrate” were clever and delivered with high energy. This was followed by “Hello” (Trey Parker/Robert Lopez & Matt Stone), also with revised and personalized lyrics, to provide the audience with biographical information. Then the problems began as neither of the two seemed sure of what they were supposed to say. The script was situated on stage where only one of them could read it comfortably, which led to some uncomfortable pauses and awkward moments.

There were some lovely discoveries, such as “Unsuspecting Hearts” (Dean Pitchford/Michael Gore), interpreted as a gorgeous song of friendship. Most of the numbers were duets that provided little distinction between the two singers. They each had one solo number where each one seized the chance to shine: Phelan soared with “Everybody Says Don’t” (Stephen Sondheim) displaying her commitment to the lyrics, and Parcells brought high emotion and passion to “First You Dream” (John Kander/Fred Ebb). If only there had been more such windows into the souls of these performers.

They did bring along some excellent musicians, including music director/pianist James Olmstead, guitarist Micah Burgess, bassist Julia Adams Peterson, and drummer Spencer Cohen. Amid a lot of bombast, there was a lovely quiet interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” which had a more interesting vocal arrangement than most of the other songs in their program. Hopefully when Parcells and Phelan come together again on the cabaret stage they’ll come up with a stronger vehicle.

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."

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