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Bridget Beirne: So Many People

A Rising Star

By Fred Choi

A SpeakEasy Stage Late Night Cabaret

Showcasing Bridget Beirne, with Musical Director Douglas Horner

Directed by Michael Forte

Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont St.

April 13, 14 at 11 p.m.

Tickets $12, $10 students and seniors

The solo debut of Bridget Beirne, the vocal and acting powerhouse who only last year burst onto Boston’s professional musical theater scene in the SpeakEasy Stage’s production of Violet, was certainly an event to anticipate. Beirne, a senior at the Boston Conservatory, has in a short time demonstrated her formidable abilities in productions such as the Boston Conservatory’s Anyone Can Whistle (Nurse Apple) and the SpeakEasy’s productions of Songs for a New World and Floyd Collins (Nellie). Her performance in the SpeakEasy’s LateNight Cabaret showcases her great talent and hints at the bright future of this new artist.

Throughout the evening Beirne conveys a youthful, earnest desire to entertain which, while potentially cloying, is utterly charming. At times this earnestness is aided by the scripted patter between songs, which is amusing but generally stiff, contrived, and superfluous. Beirne’s talent is so great that she certainly doesn’t require a flimsy framework to give her an excuse to perform a song. The exception is the opening mini-scene in which Beirne goes through an audition, performing 39 bars of “Safety In Numbers” from The Boyfriend with the old “razzle-dazzle,” which gets progressively more humorous in its iterations throughout the evening.

The hour-long performance is filled with gems that allow Beirne to demonstrate her wide emotional and musical range. Though her choice in music is varied, she generally favors pleasant but rather saccharine works by Stephen Schwartz and the pop-influenced members of “the new generation” of musical theater composers, including Jeanine Tesori and Ricky Ian Gordon. It is much to Beirne’s credit that she overcomes the trite lyrics of such songs as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Nothing Like You’ve Ever Known” to deliver an emotionally powerful performance (although why she chose to use the original, overtly syrupy lyrics rather than the much more emotionally interesting lyrics written for the Broadway revision is a mystery). Beirne is able to transform the performance of Schwartz’s inherently two-dimensional song “Lion Tamer” into something more than sticky treacle. Even the final lines, “If I could be a lion tamer/Wouldn’t he have to finally notice me,” ring surprisingly emotionally true.

Beirne entertains most successfully in her performance of more emotionally sophisticated pieces or songs written for a specific situation -- material more worthy of her ability. In “Schroeder” (from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown), Beirne, perhaps a tad too shrilly, portrays the Peanuts character Lucy in her hilarious courtship of Schroeder. Here Beirne highlights the obsessiveness of her character such that the audience feels the concentrated, laser-ray desire of an eight-year old girl in love with a completely oblivious boy. Similarly, Beirne captures the combined frustration, confusion, and love of a girl pursuing a boy who “plays for the other team” in “The Boy From ...”, Richard Rodgers’ perfect parody of “The Girl from Ipanema” with hilarious lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Beirne has a great comic timing, and her performance easily stands up to Millicent Martin’s classic, quainter characterization in the 1976 recording of the musical revue of Side by Side by Sondheim.

It is in the works by Sondheim that Beirne naturally excels (although it is here that her accompanist Douglas Horner, otherwise sensitive and supportive, falters slightly at the oftentimes terrifyingly involved accompaniment). In “The Boy From ...” and “You Could Drive A Person Crazy,” Beirne’s vocal and dramatic performance is wild and unrestrained which, while appropriate, is at times distracting and schizophrenic. However, her approach to “There Won’t Be Trumpets” and “Another Hundred People,” featuring more restraint and more economical movement, was right on target.

In So Many People Beirne blows the roof off of the Boston Center for the Arts’ BCA theater. In such an intimate setting one might have chosen a more subdued approach, but with such a fantastic performance one can easily forgive a little rambunctious energy. So Many People shows that this performer not only has the vocal power, sweetness, and drama of Bernadette Peters or Audra McDonald, but also has a distinct and unique flair and stage presence. Although Boston will feel the loss when Beirne goes to New York, we can still look forward to her performance in the SpeakEasy State’s upcoming production of Sondheim’s youthful work Saturday Night and her appearance on New York City stages.