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BWW Review: Deborah Stone Stands Out in HERE I AM! at Pangea

At a poignant moment during her show Deborah Stone says “I liked my own company.”

There are many for whom this is not a reality, and for those who have been on both sides of the liking-your-own-company coin, hearing another person say that they achieved the (at times) seemingly unattainable state, is a joy, a pleasure, indeed a moment of triumph to be respected and celebrated.

And Deborah Stone deserves to be respected and celebrated.

Ms. Stone’s new show HERE I AM! is a little slice of heaven dropped right in the laps of her listeners, of which there were so many at Pangea last night that, at times, Stone’s face registered an expression of appreciative disbelief. The only real disbelief, though, should come on the day that Deborah Stone plays to a room that is anything but full, such is the magnitude of her gifts as a nightclub performer. Her relaxed air and casual flair belies a razor sharp wit and sophistication that reminds one more of Auntie Mame than a former Oakland housewife and stepmother to three teenagers. Therein lies one of the most entertaining aspects of watching a Deborah Stone show: she is a dichotomy, a contradiction, a multi-faceted, fascinating woman with life experience and many detours in the road that has lead her to this time in her life; and her audience is the lucky beneficiary of the stories that go along with that journey.

With a rangey voice that lends itself easily to different styles of music, Ms. Stone uses carefully selected songs that mesh so well with the storytelling that a listener unfamiliar with the source material might think that the various opera had been written expressly for Stone’s play. Most savvy cabaret-goers, though, will recognize and appreciate the marriage of monologue to music by Irving Berlin and famed songwriting teams like Strause and Adams, Arlen and Mercer, Schmidt and Jones, or Schwartz and Dietz, but it takes a true music aficionado to spot the seldom heard “Say It” from the opening line “You are not my Galahad” or the utterly sublime “Here I Am” by Bryan Adams and Hans Zimmer – a number so perfectly suited to Ms. Stone, to her voice, to her personality that it makes one grateful for the existence of animated features requiring an Oscar-worthy theme song. Songs are created for the likes of Deborah Stone, and songwriters should be grateful to have so splendid an interpreter inhabit their creations. With an uncanny ability to make intimate a love song like “Why Did I Choose You” while singing it to her husband in a room full of people, Stone is equally adept at a presentational performance of “An Occasional Man” without alienating her crowd by going over the top in a small nightclub room. The pacing of her storytelling is beyond compare, as she takes out time to pause for effect, to breathe, to smile, to look individuals in the eye; she is not worried about the time and will serve the story and the audience in her own inimitable fashion. This is the nightclub act of a woman, one who is confident, sexy, strong… sometimes so much of all three that it becomes difficult to breathe while watching her. The evening is reminiscent of the days of The Algonquin, Rainbow and Stars, Tavern on The Green, the days when supper clubs were dominated by the likes of Andrea Marcovicci, Polly Bergen and Nancy LaMott.

Especially effective in the show is a blissfully lengthy tribute to Deborah Stone’s time with the musical La Cage Aux Folles, a wonderful medley that included hints and nods to Scott Salmon’s original choreography, and a heartwarming tribute to Stone’s mother, a tribute to which anyone can relate (if they have a good relationship with their mom). Stone’s acting chops were wonderfully on full display as the moods changed, in a moment, to reflect each of the songs from the Jerry Herman musical. The La Cage medley is one of two medleys performed during the show, both of them so seamlessly created that one barely notices the transition from one song to the next, but that is to be expected when John Cook is the musical director leading the way. His skills as an arranger and accompanist are indeed quite admirable, and he is evenly matched in guiding Ms. Stone by director Lina Koutrakos, whose prolific supervision contains an eloquence that fits Stone and Here I Am! like a gentle hand in a velvet glove. This is a dream team ready for the major leagues.

Here I Am! is a triumph, not just for Deborah Stone as a performer but for the people who listen to the story and who hear it. It’s not a big melodramatic story about overcoming adversity, it’s just a story, and everyone has a story. It is how they tell it that affects the listener, and Deborah Stone tells it all her own way. From the interesting jobs she’s had, to the relationships she’s nurtured, from learning to like her own company to being in the company of someone who likes hers just as much, Deborah Stone’s play speaks openly and frankly about something to which everyone can relate: living your best life and appreciating the path that brought you to that moment when you are, in fact, living your best life.

It may have taken Deborah Stone a few years to learn to like her own company but any member of the audience at a Deborah Stone show won’t have to wait that long. All it takes is a few moments in her elegant and amiable presence and 8 bars of that smooth, sultry voice and you will like her company too.

Here I Am! has completed two performances at Pangea and Deborah Stone has plans to perform the show again. When those plans have been finalized Broadwayworld will bring you the news.

To learn about all things Deborah Stone visit her Website

Photos by Stephen Mosher

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Stephen Mosher