By Eric J. Grimm
One of the most exciting aspects of attending live theater and music performances in New York City is the opportunity to watch something magical happen in an unusual venue. It makes you certain that you’re experiencing something special and unique, almost as though you’ve been invited to an exclusive party. This is the kind of experience going on in the penthouse level of Terminus Recording Studios in Times Square, where musical theater actress Maxine Linehan is recording a live album of her solo show Maxine Linehan: An American Journey. The Scott Siegel-directed show originally played to a sold out crowd at Birdland, just a few blocks south of its new home. Terminus’ penthouse is a beautiful recording studio that has been transformed into a lovely and intimate performance space surrounded by red and black curtains and lit by dim Edison bulbs. Over the course of six performances, Linehan will record the album version of her autobiographical show in which she sings a range of songs including show tunes and pop music that showcase her sweet and strong soprano voice.
Linehan’s American journey started twelve years ago when she moved to New York City from Cork County, Ireland. The Irish influence is evident in numbers like the classic show tune “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” and U2’s “Walk On.” Highlights in the set include a spirited version of Stephen Sondheim’s “What More Do I Need,” a brutally funny take on loving New York City, warts and all, and a lovely performance of “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The latter is, perhaps, overexposed in cabarets and credit card commercials, but Linehan’s voice is so lovely and comforting and her performance made me teary-eyed.
While Linehan is a confident and often spunky singer, she is more fragile and reserved as a storyteller. I’m not sure that I know very much about her as a result of experiencing this adaptation of her American journey as she does not reveal many specific details of her time in New York. It’s clear that her adventure far from home has been filled with struggle and heartbreak, but she mostly uses the music as an abstract way of tackling any painful elements of her story. This is most clear in her performance of Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” perhaps addressed to a possessive man from her past. At one point, she brings her husband, Andrew Koss, onstage to play guitar and it feels like a rare moment when she has actually let us see a glimpse of the real Maxine.
Linehan’s narrative left me wanting, but her singing left me fully satisfied. She has the voice of a born performer, complemented by simple gesturing and facial expressions. The restraint she shows in her physicality is a welcome alternative to more distracting and aggressive musical theater performers. The show and the album are sure to win her many admirers and this very special venue is a rare opportunity to watch an emerging artist create a lasting recording mere feet from an audience.
Maxine Linehan: An American Journey is playing at Terminus Recording Studios on Sundays and Wednesdays from April 27-May 14. For tickets, visit https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/93360.