By Joel Benjamin
Jennylind Parris is an elegant singer with a rich voice whose paean to another—legendary—singer was beautifully constructed and performed. But, the bottom line is that Ms. Parris isn’t Carol Burnett and her show, A Woman of Character: A Tribute to the Incomparable Carol Burnett became a lovely, if heartfelt, lecture-demonstration in which her abject adoration appeared to limit her own creativity.
Rather than use Ms. Burnett as an inspirational jumping off point, she rigidly stuck to her format, reciting biographical details and singing appropriate songs. These songs were, of course, closely associated with Ms. Burnett’s career. Ms. Parris efficiently and gracefully led her audience on a pleasant trip through Ms. Burnett’s life, the details of which are well known to the general public. Her storytelling was straightforward, witty and informative. Her singing style, though, is so far from Ms. Burnett’s that her attempts to replicate Ms. Burnett’s unique accentuations and phrasing were brave but weak approximations. For example, Ms. Parris sang “Feelings” (Morris Alpert) as Ms. Burnett doing her clueless Eunice character, never reaching the comic peak, nor finding the underlying pathos. Ms. Parris has a strong enough voice and personality that this imitation was unnecessary.
She sang “Shy” from Burnett’s first Broadway show Once Upon a Mattress (Mary Rodgers/Marshall Barer) and two songs from Fade Out—Fade In (Styne/Comden & Green) quite well, but without the oomph and physicality of Ms. Burnett who is the master of both oomph and physical humor. In fact, she did much better on those songs that did not depend on exaggerated inflections such as “Secret Love” (Sammy Fain/Paul Francis Webster) which suited her voice particularly well. “Baby Dream Your Dream” (Coleman/Fields) and “Meantime” (Robert Allen/Al Stillman) were richly interpreted. Best were two songs from the Tom Jones/Harvey Schmidt two character musical I Do! I Do!: “Something Has Happened” and “My Cup Runneth Over” which were both given a sweet, starry-eyed quality.
“I’m Still Here” (Sondheim) was a strong choice for a final song. Ms. Parris might be a tad too young for summing things, up, but she sang this with the most abandon of the evening, making her encore of Burnett’s signature sign-off, “I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together” (Joe Hamilton) quite affecting in contrast.
Tracy Stark’s rich arrangements and solid piano accompaniment gave great support and added subtlety to Ms. Parris’ renditions.
A Woman of Character: A Tribute to the Incomparable Carol Burnett – December 21, 2013
34 West 22nd St. (between 5th & 6th Aves.)
New York, NY
Reservations for Metropolitan Room shows: 212-204-0660 or www.metropolitanroom.com
Information about Ms. Parris upcoming shows: www.JennylindParris.com