by Matt Smith . . .

“I don’t know why I’m frightened / I know my way around here…. / A world to rediscover…. / Yes, everything’s as if we never said goodbye.”

After a lengthy, pandemic-induced three-year gap, there was certainly “magic in the making” at The Green Room 42 last week, as Josh Young and Emily Padgett made their grand return to the venue (and the world of New York cabaret at large) with Valjean, Cosette and a String Quartet — their personally handcrafted love letter to the musicals of the 1980s.

Relying heavily on the catalogues of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim, with a few others sprinkled in, the actors presented a heartfelt evening of story and song rooted in themes of love, loss, choosing a life path, and establishing an identity — all prevalent within the musicals of that decade.

But as is often the case in cabaret settings, their affinity for these musicals stem not only from the fact that they’re downright pure classics, but also in that they’re a pivotal part of their lives. 

Josh Young

For example, Young prefaces a Les Miz number with a story about the first time he saw the show – an experience that sparked his love for musical theater. The actor playing Marius was a then-unknown Hugh Panaro, who, several years later, would graduate to the role of Valjean, when Young himself would join the company… playing Marius. Kismet, no?

The effects of the musical have stayed with him into adulthood; before launching into a gut-wrenching rendition of “Bring Him Home”, a song he says he always adored for its melody, he shares that its meaning shifted dramatically for him when he became a father, as he finally understood the sense of protection for which Valjean prays.

In a similar vein, he tells us how, though he played Che in Evita’s national tour, he found himself relating more to Perón’s Mistress when a breakup in his personal life left him to ponder “So, what happens now? Where am I going to?” with “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.”

Emily Padgett

Padgett, meanwhile, landed her first-ever professional job with the national tour of Cats. After schooling us on the intricacies of being a cat – she explains the cast members had to begin each day with a felinity course as part of the rehearsal process, fine-tuning everything from movement to cleanliness to, yes, even the meow – she details that while she played Demeter, in a tumultuous relationship with baddie Macavity throughout the show, she later found herself in Grizabella, reflecting on the “memory” of the past and how it’s informed her future.

Later, championing the strong-willed, take-charge women of the decade, becoming the center of their own stories, she launches into a string of somber melodies in which a “secondary female character sings another sad song about another man that she can’t have.” (“Balance,” she says, with a laugh.)

But while the lyrics – whether doomy or gloomy, resplendent or reflective – are captivating, and the singers induce chills, both together and alone, what gives the evening its edge is its innovative use of the titular strings. Apart from the soothing lilt of the piano, courtesy of musical director Nate Patten, they’re the only instruments on stage – the singularity helping to further punctuate the lusciousness of the score. While Padgett and Young suck you in with their personal connections to the lyrics, through openers, interludes, and a particularly succulent overture, curated specifically for the occasion, the top-notch quartet – consisting of Alissa Smith (Viola), Sarah Hewitt-Roth (Cello), Rachel Handman (Violin) & Hiroko “Coco” Taguchi (Violin) – makes you fall in love with the melodies, and remind you why the music is just as indelible as the words.  

And while they may spend the majority singing serious music, there’s no doubt these two enjoy some moments of levity. (They are a married couple, after all.) Seizing the opportunity to indulge in roles they’d never been in, they first tackle Phantom’s “All I Ask of You” to great effect, before Young reads a faux letter (in song, naturally, to the tune of “The Music of the Night”), expressing his frustration at never being able to play the masked man. In the aforementioned felinity discussion, Padgett playfully claws at her hubby, before conceding to his desire to sing a song of the opposite gender, and they take on Closer than Ever’s haunting “It’s Never That Easy / I’ve Been Here Before” duet… which Young first heard the very first time he set foot into a cabaret club!!

In short, what puts the cherry on this voluptuous and delectable musical feast is that though they’re portraying characters and celebrating the timeless music they love, they’re also telling their story. The songs spoke to them at a time they needed them, as they maneuvered through love, loss, and life decisions, but in considering how they each got their start in theater, these musicals literally set them on their path through life!

In the words of Stephen Sondheim, whom they laud at large, “we lose things, and then we choose things,” and vice versa.

The result – whether they knew it or not – is their story, as can be the case for all of us as well. And, as Young and Padgett have shown us, while we can’t predict what’s next, as long as we stay present and shareit all in an exciting and captivating way, and there are other people who are captivated enough to listen and take something from it, to pull from the lyric, the story goes on. A new day has begun.

Valjean, Cosette and a String Quartet, featuring Emily Padgett & Josh Young, played The Green Room 42 (570 Tenth Ave. at 42nd Street) on April 9th. For more information about future performances, visit

Photos: Stephen Mosher