The Story Underneath
Staging her debut cabaret show almost a year since she finished second in the 2011 MetroStar Talent Challenge competition, Stacie Perlman certainly was charming throughout her performance of The Story Underneath. Had the very attractive brunette taken the stage wearing a blue top with a bright yellow skirt and a red bow in her ebony hair instead of stylish jeans and boots, she would have looked like a real-life Snow White. Her vocals were consistently strong, her stage presence was engaging and confident, and her show had the potential to be like a heart-warming fable from Hans Christian Andersen, with the Frank Loesser song (“I’m Hans Christian Andersen”) from the Danny Kaye film that Perlman sang to open her show.
But, while “two and two are four, [and] four and four are eight,” as the show inched along, this particular cabaret equation didn’t add up. The singer may be a beautiful swan with a voice to match, but The Story Underneath was a bit of an ugly duckling.
Things started beguilingly innocently enough. After setting the mood and the show’s intent through the song about one of history’s greatest fairy tale writers, followed by the John Sebastian song “Do You Believe in Magic,” Perlman signaled the show’s narrative arc with the title song written by her Musical Director, Jason Wynn. In an interview prior to the beginning of this three-show run, Perlman related how “at its core [“The Story Underneath”], it’s about disillusionment and how we look at fairy tales and how they change as we go through life." Wynn’s haunting melody and cynical lyric—at least in the first part of the song—presaged the conflict and melancholia to come:
As the years went by
Perlman was soon assuming an alter-ego, as if she were a contemporary Alice in Wonderland, and narrating an allegory that included her employer suffering a heart attack, an encounter with a witch-like old woman in Central Park, and a conversation with a Rumpelstiltskin-type character. Before long it was clear that Perlman and her director, co-writer, and real-life Prince Charming, Rob Langeder, had attempted to write a cabaret show as a one-woman book musical. But the story meandered, there was too much exposition, and the character Perlman had created (presumably with her own feelings about fairy tales at its core) wasn’t compelling enough for at least this audience member to be invested. Perlman and Langeder and Wynn (oh my!) obviously wanted to make a statement and a splash with Stacie’s maiden cabaret voyage, and the trio should be commended for trying something new and different. But this idea was a tough one to execute well and way too ambitious for a debut show.
Once Perlman decided on the fairy tale hook as her theme, she needed songs that fit the story and the show structure, and she found some contemporary gems that were delivered quite well. She was powerful on Heart’s “Magic Man” (Ann and Nancy Wilson), sensual on Sara Bareilles’s “Fairytale,” and was totally enchanting on the lovely The Muppet Show ballad, “Leave Me Some Magic” (Barbara Henning). Wynn provided a nifty arrangement on a mash-up of Pete Townshend’s “Behind Blue Eyes” with Sting’s “King of Pain,” and backup singers Alissa Hunnicutt and Melody Baugh helped Perlman create an Andrews Sisters vibe on “Oh, Wolfie,” from the classic 1945 Tex Avery cartoon Swing Shift Cinderella. Later, the trio harmonized beautifully on John Farrar’s “Magic,” which Oliva Newton-John sang in the film Xanadu. An inspired touch was including the group GrooveLily’s song “Screwed-Up People Make Great Art” from the Off-Broadway musical Striking 12, but the song about an insecure Hans Christian Andersen might have worked better at the top of the show.
By the time Perlman sang Jonathan Coulton’s upbeat pop number, “The Princess Who Saved Herself,” and Wynn put on some Mickey Mouse ears for a too-long Disney song medley as an encore, it was too late to save this fractured fairly tale of a cabaret show. No doubt many people will think Perlman’s show was absolutely enchanting, and in some ways it was, but the story underneath is that the emperor had no clothes.
Stacie Perlman will be performing The Story Underneath at the Metropolitan Room on July 31 and August 14, both at 7pm.