Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Kate Baldwin at Birdland

It's no secret that I am a fervent admirer of Kate Baldwin. From Finian's Rainbow to her solo album to her debut at Feinstein's last December, I have been impressed by the singing actress' charm, poise and quirky sense of humor. And that's to say nothing of her rangy, versatile soprano. When SarahB asked if I would be interested in seeing Kate at Birdland, it didn't take me long to say yes. I didn't care if the evening was an encore of her December show, I could listen to Baldwin sing Lane & Harburg from here to eternity.

The first time I met Kate, we were a table apart for Jonathan Tunick's Broadway Moonlighters in November '08. Over the course of the year that has transpired, Kate has achieved so many great things - a solo CD of Broadway standards, a successful cabaret debut and most notably, become a real, live Broadway star. On a personal level, none of this has changed Kate. She is exceptionally warm and gracious, easily evidenced by the time she took to talk with each and every fan following her performance Monday evening.

The program wasn't very different from her set at Feinstein's. The evening was again mostly devoted to her solo album (in short: buy it), and a lot of humorous banter between songs (including a lesson on "Googling Kate Baldwin," the audio of which she played for us). However, she did add some new material, most notably bringing down the house with a spirited rendition of "The Rhythm of Life" from Sweet Charity, assisted by Devin Richards, James Stovall and Bernard Dotson, who led "The Begat" in Finian's Rainbow. She also scintillated with Comden, Green & Bernstein's "I Can Cook Too" from On the Town and was especially beguiling with "Will He Like Me?" from Bock & Harnick's She Loves Me.

I consider the musical She Loves Me to be in my top three shows of all time (you can try and guess the others). It's an utterly perfect jewel of a musical comedy, with score that is so intricately integrated with its book. The two lead characters are two of my favorites (I consider Georg the musical theatre character with whom I most connect). Kate played Amalia Balish and sing the showstopping "Ice Cream" a couple years ago in a production at Huntington a couple of years ago. After hearing Kate's sublime delivery of that one ballad, I think it's time NY had another production of the show. So if anyone wants to pass on the word to Jack Viertel and the Encores! crowd: they have an ideal show for the Summer Stars series, on the one condition that they cast Kate.

Meanwhile, Kate is heading to Washington DC later in the month for a Library of Congress concert of Harold Arlen's revue Life Begins at 8:40 (with lyrics from Yip Harburg and Ira Gershwin), which will subsequently receive a cast album from PS Classics. Then in May, she is hopping the pond to make her London debut in the world premiere of Harold Prince/Susan Stroman's latest collaboration Paradise Found at the Menier Chocolate Factory, with a cast that includes Tony-winners Mandy Patinkin, Shuler Hensley, John Cullum and Judy Kaye.

We had a chance to talk briefly about the new musical, which uses the music of Johann Strauss with new lyrics from Ellen Fitzhugh (and a book by Richard Nelson) to tell a sweeping romantic story of fin de si├Ęcle Vienna. As it stands now, the plan is to transfer the production to Broadway. The way that Kate describes it, the project sounds quite intriguing, plus she'll have ample opportunity to do a lot of legitimate singing. (To the operetta haters currently groaning, this is NOT going to be a retread of The Great Waltz, mark my words). I only hope that Kate will soon be back on Broadway where she truly belongs sooner rather than later.

Oh - by the way, here's "Googling Kate Baldwin":

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