Leading lady Kate Baldwin brought her new act Sing Pretty, Don't Fall Down to 54 Below May 15. We suppose there are some things that Baldwin cannot do — Mrs. Lovett of the Meat Pie, perhaps — but over the past decade we have yet to see her be anything but superb. While she has done impressively well creating roles in less-than-successful new musicals by the likes of LaChiusa and Lippa, give her a song with lyrics by Harnick, Hammerstein or Harburg and expect musical comedy singing — and acting — of the purest level.
The mid-Western actress (born in Chicago, raised in Wisconsin, schooled at Northwestern) made her Broadway debut in 2000 as a swing in The Full Monty followed by small roles in Thoroughly Modern Millie and Wonderful Town. After several seasons playing leading ladies in theatres across the country (including productions of She Loves Me and My Fair Lady), she received "star-is-born" raves as Sharon McLonergan in the 2009 Encores! production of Finian's Rainbow. Her role as the girl from Glocca Morra brought her a Tony nomination when the show transferred to Broadway, and she quickly demonstrated her talents with her 2011 cabaret act She Loves Him, the him being her special guest Sheldon Harnick. Baldwin has since lit up the stage in three high-profile but failed musicals, the Hal Prince-Susan Stroman Paradise Found (in London); opposite Brian d'Arcy James in LaChiusa's powerful Giant; and opposite Norbert Leo Butz in last fall's Big Fish.
Baldwin — backed by conductor/composer Georgia Stitt at the piano plus bass and drums — started off unexpectedly with Ian Axel's "Rockstar." (The lyric is about a kid in the backyard singing "I just wanna be a rockstar," but Baldwin somehow changed it to "I just wanna be Bernadette Peters.") After explaining the act's title — her singing coach told her the key to success was to sing pretty and don't fall down — she immediately "sang pretty" with pristine renditions of Kern's "Bill" (using the Wodehouse version) and Bock and Harnick's "Will He Like Me?"
She also displayed her comic side with a machine-gun-like delivery of the Styne-Comden-Green "If You Hadn't But You Did." After offering an admiringly salty story about Polly Bergen in the 2008 Baltimore Centerstage regional production of A Little Night Music, Baldwin reprised her performance of "The Miller's Son" — getting tripped up in the "businessman" section but pulling it off with an apologetic "sorry" and a room-brightening smile. This was followed by a stunning "More Than You Know." Baldwin then brought on Katie Thompson, the singer-songwriter who received raves for her performance in Giant, and the pair tore up the house with the Dixie Chicks' "Sin Wagon" and the Irish drinking song, "The Parting Glass." But the evening was mostly show tunes, including Sondheim's "With So Little to Be Sure Of" and the Bock-Harnick "When Did I Fall in Love?" (Someone might want to rent out Carnegie Hall and give us Barbara Cook, Rebecca Luker, Audra McDonald and Baldwin singing "When Did I Fall in Love?" and the She Loves Me songs back to back.) Included in the mix was "Your Texas" from Giant and "I Don't Need a Roof" from Big Fish, and the evening was capped off with Finian's Rainbow's "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?"
Baldwin returns to 54 Below with Sing Pretty, Don't Fall Down May 16 and 17 at 8:30.
54 Below is located at 254 W. 54th Street. For more information visit 54Below.com.