ON THE RECORD: Christiane Noll's Gifts at 54 Below

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17 Mar 2013

Cover art
Cover art

This week's column gives a listen to Gifts, Christiane Noll's recent act at 54 Below.


Christiane Noll: Gifts [Broadway Records]
What break is more coveted for a budding young performer looking to succeed in the professional musical theatre than to win a major role in a new Broadway musical? Not necessarily a hit, but one that runs long enough to be seen by people in the business and amass a core of devoted fans. While this will not necessarily make you a star, your name instantly becomes familiar among theatergoers and all those cast album collectors.

It can be a two-edged sword, though. Your name will be forever linked to the aforesaid role, unless and until you manage to get a better role in a better musical. If the musical that made you famous is unloved or even jeered at, it might possibly stick to you. That is, your name — and an assumed perception of your abilities — can be unfairly lassoed to your debut role.

Such was the case with the 1997 musical Jekyll & Hyde. A fair amount of people loved it, revisited it enthusiastically (in some cases obsessively?), and allowed it to run 1,543 performances at the Plymouth (now the Schoenfeld). Jekyll & Hyde closed with a substantial financial deficit, although income from subsequent productions here and around the world eventually wiped out the loss. There's a new production soon to arrive at the Marquis, too.

But when it originally opened on Broadway, let's simply say that I didn't enjoy the thing. The three leading players have remained tied to the show, in my memory. While I have subsequently seen each of them on various occasions in various shows, they always seem to remind me of that unfortunate evening in 1997.

Which brings us to Christiane Noll, who played Emma in the musical that will henceforth go unnamed. All I remember of that performance was an unending jumble of a show. Noll was the good doctor's girlfriend and she got to sing a lot of Frank Wildhorn songs, but everyone was so frantic within that synthetically souped-up atmosphere that I found little of interest there, cast included. Noll has worked steadily ever since, giving an especially strong performance as the Mother in the 2009 revival of Ragtime and winning over this viewer as another, less fortunate mother in this season's mess of a musical known as Chaplin.

But I still thought of her, mostly, as that girl from Jekyll & Hyde. So much so that I didn't go out of my way to catch her nightclub act, Gifts, last October at 54 Below. Now Gifts comes to us on CD, and I have to say — I like her. So much so that I regret having missed her act.

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