Arts & Events

Cabaret Review: “DIVALICOUS” MISS BORGHESI —catch her while you can!

by John A. McMullen II
Tuesday August 17, 2010 - 12:06:00 PM
Photo by Kent Taylor

Everywhere I looked, this was a week for superstars.

The History Channel has a new program called “Stan Lee’s Superhumans” which may add to your perspective of the Darwinian stipulation regarding mutation.

Next, ten-year-old Jackie Evancho of Pittsburgh PA stopped the show and jaws dropped around the nation when she sang “O Mio Babbino” on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” (Yes, you too will think it’s lip-synching, but it’s not; find a link to this video clip at the bottom of the review---don’t get distracted, just keep reading).

Then, upon the recommendation of a Critic’s Circle colleague, we went to the cabaret performance of Leanne Borghesi’s “DIVALICIOUS” at the New Conservatory Theatre CENTER in San Francisco. NCTC has become the leading Gay Theatre in San Francisco, and Cabaret singing in San Francisco is the domain of gay culture. Think Judy, think Barbara, think Liza, think Bette and her beginnings with accompanist Barry Manilow entertaining in gay bathhouses.  

If you aren’t a cabaret-goer, this is the time to try something different, and catch the statuesque and star-destined Ms. Borghesi who sings there through August 22, before she is off to NYC’s Metropolitan Club (I’m told) and, I predict, to super-stardom.  

She is big beautiful woman, much prettier than the picture at the top. Meeting her in the reception line afterwards, she is surely over six feet tall. When I describe her to friends, given the venue, they ask, “Is she a woman?” Oh, yeah!  

She tells of being a fat little girl with glasses who loved and lived musical theatre and all the singers mentioned above. You see it with every move and nuance: the singers and songs are burned deep into her, and the synthesis is new and fresh and, maybe, better.  

I was entranced by her variations and intonations, her swirls and dips, her twists and scoops, her delicious vibrato, her working the vowels; it all gave me thrills. Her interpretations are unique, and never fail to keep you interested in what she does with all the songs you know by heart. She changes moods quickly and seamlessly. She whispers then belts a torch song while leaning against the proscenium in the most dramatic of poses with one knee bent and foot braced against the stage wall and her arm longingly poised above her head. Next, she is dancing lightly and swirling with the next up-tempo selection. Her gestures are grand and in other hands these would be trite, but they are so organic and come from inside of her, and you buy it and want more. Occasionally there is a little of the inside joke and paean to the great ladies, as when she does “Anything Goes,” exactly the way Patty Lupone phrased it. Last year, she won the Critic’s Circle Award for “Dames at Sea,” as did her accompanist G. Scott Lacy for his musical direction.  

With one selection, her singing made me feel the way I do when snuggling down between cool sheets under a down comforter; her singing can put that sort of memory into your head and body. 

That being said, it could be better.  

Cabaret is different in nature and setting than musical theatre, and sitting in proper little rows in the audience of a theatre distances the performer from the audience, whereas sitting in a club around a little round table with a glass of booze and the singer close by on a little rise enhances intimacy. 

When Ms. Borghesi spiels her patter, or when she chats and flirts with Mr. Lacy, it seems startlingly canned and rehearsed. When she sings, everything is effortless and comes from deep within. When she talks, well…maybe that just needs a lot more rehearsal and/or direction. Perhaps it would be improved if it were improvved, or else rehearsed to the point where it sounds spontaneous. 

I remember seeing Johnny Mathis when I was a teenager outside of Pittsburgh PA at the Twin Coaches nightclub where all the stars played. He never said a word. Just sang. I have never been so entranced as then. Till now. Except when she talked. Perhaps Musical Theatre is more her forte—not everyone can do everything—but I’m hoping that she can connect emotionally and casually with her audience and easily chat with them like the greats could.  

Her song mix and segues keep you expectant and off-balance like the dance-away lovers in the torch songs she sings. It was perfection in selection. Until the end. 

The pre-show music was Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.” When she sang that song late in the second act, it was the perfect finale, book-ended and brought full circle.  

Then she did “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” She’d been singing for two sets, and while her voice didn’t seen particularly tired, covering Barbara’s signature song is like doing the “To be or not to be” monologue; insanely high standards are used for comparison. Mixing it in mid-way would have been a better placement.  

Then she did another one. By that time, it was like being served three desserts in a row. She could have left them wanting more; alas, she gave them too much. 

If she can learn to just talk to the folks, and know when to quit, this kindergarten teacher has the makings of the next cabaret superstar, and she’ll do super-fine. There were no CDs to be bought, and I would have bought two.  

New Conservatory Theatre Center is a comfortable place to see a show, cocktails are $8, it’s all carpeted and near public transportation. Two sets, one intermission, and you’re out by 9:30.  

It’s a performance you’ll remember even if she doesn’t Make It There—though I’m betting on her making it anywhere. 

“DIVALICIOUS” at New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness St., San Francisco 

Wed thru Sat at 8 pm with Sun Mats at 2 pm through August 22. 

(Near Van Ness Muni Metro Station, (serviced by the J, K, L, M, N lines) on many MUNI bus lines and 3 blocks from the Civic Center Bart Station.) 

INFO/TICKETS (415) 861-8972 or 

Directed by Stephanie Temple, musical direction by G. Scott Lacy, scenic design by Kuo-Hao Lo, lighting design by Christian Mejia, sound design by Sara Stanley (additions by Mark O’Brien). Stage management by Lori Fowler. 

With: Leanne Borghesi, accompanied by G. Scott Lacy. 

Oh, and that video link to the ten-year-old superstar in the making: