I suppose there are two types of cabaret performers generally - those who take chances and those who do not. Teresa Fischer is one of those who is continually taking chances; who, in fact, walks a veritable tightrope almost every time she performs. The multifarious Miss Fischer - actress, singer, director - made her (long overdue in my opinion) debut as a solo cabaret performer at Don't Tell Mama this month, showing that she does have the talent, drive, stamina, and charisma to validate this most treacherous of art forms.
Yes, a dangerous art form - because what do we have here: a performer who must step out from the role of musical wallpaper as favored in so many watering holes in town; one who must lead an audience sometimes into places they do not wish to go - a memory perhaps - and do it with grace; someone who can sometimes deliver a well-known song in a fashion new to the listener, and make it acceptable. It is hard to love someone who makes you cry, yet the best artists do make us cry; - and laugh, and remember.
Cabaret followers know Teresa Fischer from years of various guises of her "Three Broads" routines - Three Broads Singing To Beat The Blues, Singing Naughty Singing Nice, etc. Those shows featured a wholesome mix of well known standards, offbeat Broadway, and a few comic surprises. Miss Fischer largely abandoned this crowd pleasing formula in favor of a show which was mostly from the fringes of cabaret. Many delights, but not a standard in sight. And in such waters an audience needs a more gentle pacing, and hand holding. Patter, which Miss Fischer - a talented actress - is so good at, was kept to a bare minimum. And a long show (14 big ones) with not even a trace of intermission is wearing for a listener and for the performer as well: Songs in the latter third of the program sometimes suffered from a voice that was no longer as controlled as earlier.
Jazzy numbers from early in the show (opener "Crime Of Passion" for instance) were sung well technically, but lacked the originality and sparkle Miss Fischer brings to other vocal genres. One felt she was playing it safe in new waters, but this listener was not convinced those were the right waters for this usually highly original singer. Perhaps the musical accompaniment (the show's music director Rob LaRocco accompanied) which remained solidly in one performance style all evening contributed to that feeling. Strange, since Mr. LaRocco arranged such a powerful assembly of numbers.
This is a dynamic, powerhouse of a show despite the mood indigo title. Miss Fischer took charge of things starting with the second number "I Take My Chances" by Carpenter and Schulitz. Confirmed the promise with "Ya Gotta Know How" by Sippie Wallace. But she really brought the house down with the performing waitress anthem "It's An Art" from the 1978 show Working by Stephen Schwartz of Godspell and Pippin fame (and who also it should be remembered wrote the touching "A Simple Song" for Bernstein's Mass). This was a classic show-stopper - made even more so by the sensitive lighting designs of David Maiocco which delighted us all evening - and the logical place for a well deserved break. But with no pause, Miss Fischer dove onward with another blockbuster performance: the wrenching "Hold On" from the 1991 Tony winner Secret Garden by Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman, in which her formidable acting skills combined with that powerful mezzo instrument to emotionally devastate the audience. Lighter fare did come, with the low-comic "Otto Titsling" from Bette Midler's Beaches and the superbly handled "An Old Fashioned (lesbian) Love Story" by Andrew (Charlie Brown) Lippa.
One chance remains to see the show: Tuesday June 18 at 9pm, in the thankfully smoke-free Front Room at Don't Tell Mama (212 757-0788).