NY Cabaret Music Review by Brian Scott Lipton
Possessing the voice of an angel (and a little bit of the devil), the attitude of a diva, and the sweetness of the girl next-door, Broadway star Saycon Sengbloh has all the makings of a first-rate cabaret artist. Her debut show at 54 Below may have lacked a little polish (and sadly, much of an audience), but it proved to be an extremely entertaining evening and the augur of great things to come.
Eschewing any sort of traditional format, Sengbloh’s show was an intriguing and eclectic mix of tunes from the world of pop radio and Broadway, beginning with a spirited version of Outkast’s 2003 hit “Hey Ya,” followed by a deeply felt, almost hypnotic take on Dolly Parton’s classic “Jolene.” As the set progressed, she continued her love affair with pop music by offering up singular takes on “I Can’t Stand the Rain” (made famous by Tina Turner) and the highly infectious hit tune “Wake Me Up.”
Knowing that she had some Broadway fans in the house, Sengbloh served up a beautiful version of Jonathan Larson’s “Without You” (from “Rent,” the show in which she earned her Equity card). She got some audience participation on the African-flavored “Water No Get Enemy,” which she sang in the award-winning musical “Fela,” and sang a dazzling rendition of “I’m Here,” the brilliant anthem of affirmation that she sang on Broadway when she stepped in briefly for Fantasia during the run of “The Color Purple.”
Sengbloh showcased both her generosity of spirit and her willingness to take chances on a thoroughly reimagined take of the Frank Sinatra standard “It Was a Very Good Year.” The lyrics had been rewritten to reflect the singer’s own story, and she allowed each member of her four-piece band and her two excellent back-up singers to add their own “voices” to the piece.
She concluded the set with two original songs “Be Here” and “Everything,” which might have had more impact had they been interspersed into the set earlier, and forewent any encore. Sengbloh is definitely an artist who does things her own way – and there’s nothing wrong with that.
54 Below – 254 W 54th St, Cellar – New York, NY 10019