City Center's inaugural season of Encores! Off-Center winds up an exciting July with Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford's I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It On the Road. Kathleen Marshall's fully-staged concert version of the 1978 Off-Broadway hit opened last night and plays four more performances, through July 27.
Magnifying the power of this little-seen piece is the performance of Renee Elise Goldsberry as a 39-year-old singer/songwriter looking to make a comeback with a feminist-slanted cabaret act. Goldsberry is not a Broadway newcomer; her credits include the Pulitzer-winning Good People (in which she played the upper class wife of Frances McDormand's high school boyfriend) and the final Mimi in Rent. The latter performance was preserved in "Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway." Goldsberry also has been a presence on television's "One Life to Live" and "The Good Wife."
But last night's audience seemed little prepared for Goldsberry's masterful performance, both as a singer (leading all but two of the songs) and as an actress. Working with what might seem dated material about a traditional 1960s wife determined to finally "put myself out there the way I am," Goldsberry arguably makes the script more convincing than it was when lyricist/librettist Cryer originated the role down at Joe Papp's Public Theater. The show was poorly received back then, but it managed to find an audience and transfer to the old Circle in the Square on Bleecker Street. I'm Getting My Act Together flourished for a three-year run of 1,165 performances, with Cryer followed by (among others) Virginia Vestoff, Carol Hall, Betty Buckley, Phyllis Newman and composer Ford.
Goldsberry is joined by Frederick Weller (Take Me Out) as her chauvinistic manager/ex-lover, and Christina Sajous and Jennifer Sanchez as her very supportive backup singers. Jason Rabinowitz is a helpful presence in Don Scardino's old role as a 24-year-old guitarist who, out of the blue, professes love for the 39-year-old leading lady.
|Photo by Joan Marcus|
The songs are scored for an onstage five-piece rock combo, with the musicians stepping downstage to play subsidiary acting roles. Suitable for a 299-seater, this doesn't quite fill the 2,250 seat City Center. Goldsberry, however, makes up for the imbalance; the best moment of the show, in fact, is her rendition of Cryer and Ford's superb "Old Friend," which is performed with a piano-only accompaniment. (Musical director Chris Fenwick, who did a superb job two weeks ago with Off-Center's The Cradle Will Rock, is at the piano here.) Other effective spots include "Dear Tom," "In a Simple Way I Love You" (from Rabinowitz), "Put in a Package and Sold" and "Lonely Lady" (which Goldsberry delivers a cappella). Also scoring is "Strong Woman Number," led by Sajous, who was a standout in a similarly small role in last winter's Forever Dusty.
Director/choreographer Marshall (Anything Goes, Nice Work If You Can Get It), who served as artistic director of Encores! for five seasons, seems to have relished the chance to do a full staging for the series. (Unlike other Encores! offerings, this one has a full set — albeit Off-Broadway style — by Derek McLane.) Marshall's work, and Goldsberry's performance, serve as a memorable cap to Encores! Off-Center's first season.
During the opening night curtain call, Cryer and Ford — the first female composer/lyricist team to achieve a sustained career in American musical theatre — climbed onstage and received a strong, and fitting, ovation.