A Broadway veteran delivers a warm and witty evening of songs.
Review By Joel Benjamin
Broadway veteran Brenda Braxton’s Act 2, Now What? was joyously intimate. She took her band, wittily led by another music veteran, Tracey Stark, and the audience on a loving journey through the music she loves, beginning, appropriately enough, with “Only In New York” (Jeanine Tesori & Dick Scanlan), a tour of the wonders of the Big Apple, followed by the lighthearted “Not In the Mood” (Cleavant Derricks, her colleague from Dreamgirls & Clinton Derricks Carroll), setting an easygoing mood.
She took us back to her first try at a Broadway show singing an absolutely hilarious version of “What the World Needs Now is Love” (Bacharach/David) which, nevertheless, got her into the all-Black Guys and Dolls. From that show she sang two songs by, of course, Frank Loesser: An intense “Luck Be a Lady” and a sweetly silly “If I Were a Bell,” the latter in homage to Ernestine Jackson who starred as Sarah Brown in that fabled production.
She touched on a marriage gone bad with the quintessential saloon song, “Guess Who I Saw Today” (Murray Grand & Elisse Boyd), the one about seeing a husband cheating. The testy breakup song “Don Juan” (Leiber & Stoller) continued the love-gone-wrong theme along with relating how she left Cats for Smokey Joe’s Café where she scored big.
Elegantly svelte and youthful, Braxton kept joking about celebrating her 50th birthday for the sixth and seventh time! Nevertheless, her indomitability came through in “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (Styne/Merrill), performed with a sense of humor and strength.
Rather than leave the stage, she coyly hid behind her tall bassist, Tom Pietrycha, doing a cute peek-a-boo before setting off on “My Life” (Lee Miller & David Nail) to a disco beat, a song about facing life head-on. Each band member, including the drummer David Silliman, had a solo bit.
Ms. Braxton has an easygoing elegance and a rich voice. She knows just how far to go with her audience, never losing their attention. She revealed just enough about her life in her witty chatter, letting her songs and her interpretations do the heavy work.
She will repeat this show on May 18th.
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