Eden Espinosa: Unplugged and Unplanned

Eden Espinosa

By Matt Smith

 

In titling her dynamic debut residency with the succinct Unplugged and Unplanned, Broadway beltress Eden Espinosa gets straight to the point. The evening, indeed, delivers exactly what it advertises: An exclusively acoustic evening of story and song, all of which are susceptible to change, and can be added to, subtracted from, or completely revised altogether at any given performance. 

Yes, save for the opening and closing numbers, our headliner is in the dark for the majority of the night. While most of the songs in the set come from her established repertoire (she admits there are a chosen few she’s never tried before in a concert setting), Espinosa remains unaware of what she’s actually singing and when, tasking second banana and knockout guitarist Ryan Hummel with taking the reins and determining the direction of the evening.

While the premise is enticing, the execution may be hit or miss. Sure, it’s refreshing to see Espinosa unfiltered; free of structure, she’s as loose and loopy in her banter as she is, admittedly, vulnerable about the performance of these mystery songs. Throughout the evening, she maintains a breezy back and forth with her audience— themselves encouraged to shout out responses, questions, and commentary if they desire. But depending on what stories Espinosa is wont to tell, however long-winded the audience commentary may be, and whatever time limits (or lack thereof) have been set upon them by the venue, the length of the show can vary, at times severely truncating the musical performances and leaving the audience wanting more.

Still, it’s an enjoyable evening nonetheless. For one, with no rules, she’s free to behave as she wants— so all bets are off and no object is off limits. As such, in between numbers, she remains loose, lighthearted, and off-the-cuff. Espinosa dispenses first-rate life advice and exclusive secrets from the Joseph rehearsal room, while also detailing her and Hummel’s first meeting, and how a simple night out with a friend turned into a particularly steamy tryst.

Eden Espinosa

And then, of course, there’s the music itself. For someone who confesses her hesitancy with such an impulsive experiment, she’s in full form with her delivery of each number, which range from classic and contemporary pop fare to gutsy selections from her own original catalogue.

In keeping with the light and free-flowing vibe of the room, the style of each song is just as diverse as the selections themselves; among others, Espinosa wails to the rafters with “Sweet Child o’ Mine” by (who else?) Guns N’ Roses, swims in the sentimental with Dean Martin’s “My Heart Cries for You,” and literally takes it to the floor for a soothing, stirring spin on The Beatles’ “Yesterday.” Meanwhile, her original tunes (off her 2019 album Revelation) speak to such prevalent themes of letting go of preconceived expectations, living in the moment, and seizing every opportunity when possible. 

Furthermore, she appeals to her avid Broadway fanbase with a “Musical Theatre Lightning Round;” Plucking crowd requests out of a hat, she covers everything from diehard fan favorites to anticipatory dream roles, with passes at Wicked, Falsettos, Next to Normal, and the Broadway-bound Lempicka at any given performance.

The hitch here? She announces her right to unapologetically veto requests, which, while understandable considering she’s coming off a week of high-octane rehearsals, slightly hinders how epic this section could be. She’s ruthless in her refusals, and with more passes than not— in addition to an impromptu, but lively, appearance from “unplanned” special guest Mason Alexander Park— one might wonder if there was really enough Eden to go around. Again, without fully sacrificing the spontaneity adding just a slight bit more structure might get us a little more bang for our buck, especially here in the area in which we all know she excels.

Eden Espinosa

Still, the evening succeeds because she stands by what she sings. Whether on a stool, on the ground, or standing smack-dab in the center of the stage, Espinosa’s emoting with her full heart. In short, though she may not know which songs are coming, she knows they each hold something meaningful to her. She demonstrates a masterful understanding of a lyric, and you can’t help but be moved seeing her visibly convey that understanding…. so that perhaps, we, too, might be affected by these words in an equally profound way.

But it’s her final number that really drives her point home. A poignant mashup fusing Paula Cole’s “Me” with U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” the medley promotes the idea of boldly forging forward despite doubts and insecurities— some of which may be self-imposed— while acknowledging that we all struggle to find our way at some point. There’s never a clear path, and it may not always be so clearly laid out for us. And that’s okay. Maybe it doesn’t have to be so ultimately clear in the end. Maybe it’s okay to have doubts. Maybe it’s okay to not know. Maybe, despite the misgivings and messiness that may arise, it’s okay to live life a little “unplugged and unplanned.” And, at its heart— as this uninhibited evening proves— it may not always be perfect, but there’s beauty in it nonetheless. 

Photos: Stephen Mosher

Eden Espinosa: Unplugged and Unplanned

At the Green Room 42 (570 Tenth Ave.) on February 9th, 16th, and 23rd

Returning to the venue on February 28th.

www.thegreenroom42.com

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