By Brian Scott Lipton . . .
With a booming, roof-shattering voice that seems like it should come from a woman twice her physical size, Christina Bianco should be a constantly in-demand pop and Broadway star. (Personally, I would love to see her performance as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, for which she earned raves in Paris). But it’s her uncanny ability to do impressions of beloved actresses that keeps her fans coming back to her cabaret shows time and again.
Luckily, those of us at the Green Room 42 on February 17 for Diva on Demand!, Bianco’s first New York appearance in a year (she now lives in London), got the best of both worlds. Joined by her superb musical director, Brad Simmons, Bianco unleashed both sides of her vocal dexterity, much to the delight of her fans.
Speaking of the fans, for much of the show, the live audience voted for Bianco’s selections – of both song and singer –through a QR code on their phones. The gimmick fortunately caused few technical glitches, but it added some unnecessary padding timewise. And I would have been just as happy if Bianco had simply pre-selected her own show, which I doubt would have varied that greatly from the final product.
I think we would have still heard a perfectly done “Liza with a Z,” John Kander and Fred Ebb’s brilliant specialty number for Liza Minnelli’s famed 1972 TV special; a hilarious take on “Agatha All Along” (from the recent TV series WandaVision) sung as Patti LuPone — without a single intelligible consonant or vowel; a medley of Celine Dion’s movie theme songs that perfectly captured the Canadian songstress’ singular voice, and – one of my favorite numbers – the ridiculous “Muffin Top” (from the TV series 30 Rock) in which Bianco precisely channeled the song’s originator (and cowriter), the divine Jane Krakowski.
Singing as herself, Bianco was a marvel, bringing down the house with a kick-ass version of the Laura Branigan hit “Gloria,” a vocally thrilling “Rainbow High” (from Evita), and a moving “Maybe This Time” (from Cabaret), each of which was more than good enough to make you forget their original versions.
Equally (if not more) impressive is Bianco’s unparalleled ability to do a variety of impressions in rapid-fire succession. She displayed this talent brilliantly in a trio of movie monologues, each of which saw her do five different impressions in under two minutes – none of which was the original speaker.
Instead, Meryl Streep’s “Cerulean” speech from The Devil Wears Prada allowed her to sublimely imitate Penelope Cruz, Kristen Wiig, Kristin Chenoweth, Jennifer Saunders (as Edina Monsoon from Absolutely Fabulous) and Megan Mullally (as Karen Walker from Will & Grace); a monologue from Clueless, while less uproarious, still had its delights (notably, a spot-on imitation of Bebe Neuwirth), and the “No More Wire Hangers” speech from Mommie Dearest re-created in the voices of Christine Baranski, Marilyn Monroe, Jennifer Aniston and Miley Cyrus, among others, which had the audience in stitches.
Still, nothing could top Bianco’s finale: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s soaring anthem “As If We Never Said Goodbye” (from Sunset Boulevard) during which Bianco crammed in over a dozen impressions – including a pitch-perfect Alice Ripley, Julie Andrews, Bernadette Peters, and Shirley Bassey to name just a few – in just four minutes. After such an extraordinary turn, no one in the Green Room was actually ready to say goodbye to Bianco!
Photos: Maryann Lopinto