You’re Nothing Without Me
By Andrew Poretz . . .
In the best tradition of “Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz” and “Oscar and Felix,” You’re Nothing Without Me is a fine pairing of two seeming “frenemies,” Margo Brown and Lisa Dellarossa at a sold-out Don’t Tell Mama production. The gals spent a delightful 75 minutes of sparring, sniping and singing in a well-written, well-directed and terrifically performed cabaret gem that musically answers the question, “Can two women of a certain age do a show together without driving each other crazy?” (a line adapted from the iconic “Odd Couple” voiceover introduction).
The very tanned, fit and lovely Margo has the style and bearing of a Florida socialite, appearing in a black, sparkly outfit that showed off her lithe, dance-champion figure. Lisa, in a black choker jumpsuit with chrome trimmings, has a warm, attractive presence and a bit of a “New Yorker” edge. The two women became actual friends when Lisa lived in Florida.
In “Let’s Start Tomorrow Tonight” (Mark Shaiman/Scott Wittman) a song introduced on the television series “SMASH,” the gals got into an argument over the song’s title: Is it about tonight or tomorrow? The funny patter had them each make her case in a clever medley of familiar “tonight” and “tomorrow” song titles. The ladies sat on stools for a grouping of friendship-centric themes and songs from television shows, including, natch, Neil Hefti’s “Odd Couple” theme, Cole Porter’s “Friendship” (famously sung by Lucy and Ethel on “I Love Lucy”), and even the rarely heard lyrics to the “Bonanza” theme.
Lisa did several solo songs, showing off her comedy flair with a very funny “I Got it from Agnes” (a timely, Irish ditty-style “virus song” by Tom Lehrer). Accompanist John Cook made several clever musical quotes that reflected her patter. Did you know Bernadette Peters was convinced to write a song for her book about shelter animals? Peters wrote both the music and whimsical lyrics for the gorgeous ballad, “Kramer’s Song,” delivered beautifully by Lisa.
Margo’s terrific, catty delivery of the witty “What Did You Do to Your Face?” (Susan Werner), a song about bad plastic surgery, was just marvelous, as the gals continued their musical sniping. The song has a bit of a Dave Frishberg feel to it, with lines like:
“I’m sure this probably isn’t quite the time or the place
But what did you do to your face?
I mean what, with the eyes,
You look like everything’s a total surprise…”
The show’s title song, “You’re Nothing Without Me” (Cy Coleman/ David Zippel), had special lyrics by Jeff Harnar that had these “frenemies” call each other out by name. The ladies continued their “spat” with “Does He Love You” (Billy Stritch/Sandy Knox), a song that had them fighting over a man. “Does he love you like he’s been loving me?”
Margo and Lisa’s musical grappling gradually turned to acceptance and love, with a torchy, contrapuntal medley of “Me and My Shadow” (Al Jolson/Dave Dreyer/Billy Rose) and “My Own Best Friend” (John Kander/Fred Ebb).
Margo’s finest solo came with a heartfelt ballad, “My Favorite Year.” Here, no longer fighting her best friend, she sang with vulnerability and truth.
Lisa asked the audience to lift their glasses for a toast, “because the drinks buy back all the memories of all that we’ve been through.” Her singing on a coupling of the Maroon 5 song “Memories” (based on Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”) with “You Can’t Make Old Friends” (Don Schlitz, Ryan King and Caitlyn Smith) was her best vocally.
The finale, an altered reprise of the title song, was reframed as an homage to the audience, as “We’re Nothing Without You.” Mr. Cook provided a third voice for harmony.
You’re Nothing Without Me started with two frenemy rivals, whose relationship morphed into a poignant close friendship through stories and songs. Both Margo Brown and Lisa Dellarossa are good singers with deft timing and a strong stage presence. Musical director John Cook provided outstanding arrangements and his accompaniment often included impressive jazz voicings. It was fascinating for this reviewer to watch him, so connected and attuned he is to his singers. The show’s humor and sweetness may prompt you to call a friend, even if they’re nothing without you!
You’re Nothing Without Me returns to Don’t Tell Mama on April 22 and May 13, 2022.
Margo Brown and Lisa Dellarossa
You’re Nothing Without Me
March 25, 2022
Music Director: John M. Cook
Director: Jeff Harnar
Don’t Tell Mama, 343 West 46th Street NYC
Photos: Sarah Cail