By Myra Chanin
The most amazing aspect of New York City’s Cabaret scene happens when you stop into a club not expecting anything special and find yourself in Wonderland!! That’s exactly what I experienced Sunday Night November 20th at the Metropolitan Room when I was artistically, intellectually and musically floored, felled, stunned, knocked out by Billie Roe’s uniquely provocative show, Monopoly: Singing the Lives from Baltic Avenue to Boardwalk, a complex braid created by the following remarkable trio.
Performer Billie Roe who in 2012 after a nearly 30-year hiatus, returned to the Cabaret stage with a theme show about Dangerous Women: Life in Film Noir that won Bistro and Mac Awards and the MetroStar Talent Challenge, which she quickly followed with Tom Waits Tribute Show that earned her additional Mac and Bistro awards.
Director Mark Nadler, the increasingly more artistically profound and penetrating creative director as well as an internationally acclaimed singer, pianist, tap-dancer, composer, comedian, commentator and what have you, who has taken home every possible award including most recently, the 2015 Broadway World Editor’s Choice Award for Entertainer of the Year;
Music Director Steven Ray Watkins, a most sought after New York City pianist and musical director who has consulted or coached Patti LuPone, Hugh Jackman, Beyonce, Anne Hathaway, Amanda McBroom and Karen Mason.
Roe and Nadler created the script for Monopoly, Nadler and Watkins worked on the musical arrangements and they are all simply magnificent.
Monopoly opens with Billie, attractively dressed in silver and black, welcoming the audience and introducing them to what the game of Monopoly has meant to her, especially The Big Game of 1963, the family game during which she finally beat her Big Brother Bob, despite his ownership of (gasp!) Park Place and Boardwalk with hotels!. FYI, I’ve always found ownership of Park Place and Boardwalk an expensive curse. Houses and Hotels are overpriced. Other players rarely land on them. Instead they pass Go and land on the slum properties on Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues where the rents are cheap but occupancy is constant and reliable.
Billie Roe’s presence and delivery quickly make you aware that she’s a very special performer — a blunt, direct, actress/singer with great vocal control, a wide range, a friendly stage presence and strong pipes who has noticed and remembered what’s gone on around her and is capable of delivering tales about people who’ve impressed her. The Big Monopoly Game of 1963 may have been Billie’s first foray into real estate, but it was not her last. She’s been employed for many years by the New York City Department of Affordable Housing, which means she meets many people who live on the street or can barely afford a roof over their heads.
Billie is also emotionally knowledgeable about people who more than make the grade like Mrs. Bibbs (the wife of Mayor Bibbs) who raises vegetables to feed the local poor in her Boardwalk garden. Not with her own hands. No! Her non-English speaking gardener Pedro actually hauls the merde. They are very friendly. She’s teaching him English. I wasn’t quite sure what he was teaching her.
Another person Billie portrays is Henry, a teenager sent by the Fresh Air Fund to vacation near her family’s summerhouse. Billie also becomes the homeless woman who lives under the baby grand on the stage and Sophie Gerstein, a perpetually grieving widow who ultimately outwits her greedy landlord. And none of them are caricatures.
The songs interspersed between the monologues are astonishingly diverse. They range from the 1933 Ted Koehler/Harold Arlen depression song, “Raising the Rent,” to Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner ‘s 1965 “It’s Lovely Up Here,” from On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, Ricky Lee Jones 2001’s “Easy Money,” Tom Waits 2011 “Kiss Me,” a 1938 Kurt Weill Medley, Craig Doerge and Judy Henske 1973 “Yellow Beach Umbrella,” and near the end of the performance a blend of the 1960’s via John Fogerty’s “Fortunate Son,” Lennon and McCartney’s “Help,” and Vandross and Marx’s 2002 “Dance With My Father.”
Each song is perfectly hooked to a totally appropriate monologue. The arrangements are often dark, with 1929 Berlin chords, mood and ambiance. The musical combinations are simply miraculous. Every word is delivered clearly, so lines like “Kiss me like a stranger again,” seem compelling and fresh.
I kept wishing that we could travel back in time to the ‘50’s when TV was smarter, and craft mattered more than celebrity and Billie Roe could be celebrated on TV shows like “Omnibus,” hosted by Alistair Cooke. But even if these venues have disappeared, the packed room at the Metropolitan Room shows there is still an appreciative audience for work of this caliber by this triumphant, articulate and gutsy trio: Nadler, Watkins and, of course, Roe.