Saturday, June 15, 2019

Theatre Review: Mood Swings

Leanne Borghesi’s Mood Swings runs the gamut

© Helane Blumfield
A rollicking roller coaster in a cabaret setting
by Stephen Mosher

When I think of Nightclub Singers, my mind goes into the past to a dreamy vision of Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan, Bobby Darin or the like in moodily lit clubs singing into a smoke-filled air some songs that they like. It’s a gritty, glamorous vision captured in black and white photos of the time, photos that history buffs and music devotees like me look at and longingly wish for the invention of a time machine. There are still performers like this who sing in clubs and cabaret rooms all over New York City, and there are performers who bring to the stages of clubs an act, a story, a journey. I can get into any genre of cabaret performing, from the crooners to the comics, as long as there is a story being told.

Well there was a heck of a story told at Mood Swings, which played the Laurie Beechman Theater recently. Mood Swings is the creation of 2019 MAC award (Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs) nominee Leanne Borghesi, who has played this show to sold out houses in New York and San Francisco, and who will likely bring the show back due to its popularity. Mood Swings is 75 minutes of bawdy, naughty comedy and swingy, sexy, silly singing that had the audience (and I am not exaggerating one little bit) screaming one minute and sighing the next. Guests with no preconceived notions of what was about to happen were immediately clued in when Borghesi burst forth in her Stiletto Ruby Slippers, enormous hair and feather boa: this was not going to be a crooner standing at a mic singing standards. Oh, there are standards. There are showtunes. There are classics. There was, in fact, not one song that I couldn’t sing along with (remember me, the music aficionado?) - and when a club act is all songs you already know there is a risk that you might find yourself a bit bored. Not even the most cynical and jaded person could be bored by Borghesi because every song is an act in her one woman play about a madwoman getting over the departure of an unnamed paramour who left her in a state of luxurious drama, dare I even say melodrama. This isn’t just every day melodrama, though - it is high sketch comedy worthy of Bette Midler, Joanne Worley and Gilda Radner. From start to finish, Leanne Borghesi commits to this character who ought to be committed. There is no length to which she will not go to get a laugh, no depth to which she will not sink to bring her audience to her. The thing is, she didn’t need to sink to bring us to her because we went, willingly. That is the extreme of her abject charm. Whether she is crawling on the floor, lying on her back doing Busby Berkeley leg-ography or engaging in outrageous prop comedy, Leanne Borghesi proves that when it comes to winning over her audience she is equal to the task.

The laughs don’t stop when La Borghesi sings, they simply take on the added dimension of awe. Not since the days of Kaye Ballard, Karen Morrow and Eydie Gorme has there been a voice this big on a stage. There are certainly belters out there on stages in theaters and cabarets, but there is something special about Leanne Borghesi’s ability to open her mouth and fill a room with a sonic boom in F5, then immediately reel it in to a growl in F3, all the while enhancing the story her voice is telling with facial expressions worthy of a movie close-up of Bette Davis. Even at one of the funniest moments in her play, Miss Borghesi had tears welled up in her eyes, threatening to fall down a cheek made up in full opera, but defiantly not daring to, lest the onstage character unveil the pain she is in. It is a tour de force performance that would play from center stage at the Muny but that isn’t too big for the Beechman, a balancing act of epic proportion, masterfully executed by a Mistress of Mischief and Mirth.

© Helane Blumfield
Directed by Nick Minas, Mood Swings flies from brass with numbers like 'Old Devil Moon' to sass with tunes like 'Moondance', it is silly with 'Everybody’s Girl' and sexy with 'I Put a Spell on You', and the show and its star remain engaging and exciting from that first jeweled red pump hitting the stage to the last glimpse of a different kind of slipper sliding into the wings. Backed by an exemplary team of musicians named Jamie Mohamedien (bass), Jim Piela (sax/clarinet), Don Kelley (percussion) and musical director Brandon Adams, Leanne may stand front and center but it is clear that she is never alone because the adoring glances of her fellow entertainers speaks volumes and, frankly, those glances mirror the adoration rolling up to the stage from the audience.

For the moment Mood Swings has completed a run in New York City with a promise to be back, but Leanne Borghesi is an award winning actress who is continually on the move, so Mood Swings or any of her other projects might happily play a town near you. To stay up to date on Leanne Borghesi’s appearances refer to her website or her social media accounts
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