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Photo Credit :: Broadway World
Arts & Entertainment
Brilliant Mistake
By Mark Thompson & Robert Doyle
October 31, 2005 
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If you’re a theatre maven (or queen, perhaps) – and who in New York isn’t, for what’s the point of enduring all of New York’s difficulties if not for the saving grace of the theatre? – then one of life’s little joys in this town is witnessing the growth and evolution of various theatrical performers you recognize from various shows. Watching a particular performer stretch beyond the confines of one show into something else altogether in another show, it’s nice to give yourself a little pat on the back for being one of the first who recognized that talent from your seat on the aisle. And this past Halloween night was the perfect opportunity to witness the startling transformations of a number of extremely talented Broadway singers as they sang their way through the Elvis Costello songbook in a benefit for the crisis center Friends in Deed.

For nearly thirty years, Mr. Costello has been making music which hooks in the memory banks, writing songs about the costs of love and relationships and the injustices of life, but perhaps the extreme largesse of Costello’s work becomes more readily apparent when sung by a group of savvy performers possessing of some of the city’s most idiosyncratic voices.

Take, for example, Daphne Rubin-Vega’s rendition of “Everyday I Write the Book,” which Ms. Vega performed as if she were Marilyn Monroe as a majorette in black leather and white tutu. Complete with black leather platform boots, Ms. Vega sold this song with the aplomb of a Vegas showgirl, thereby erasing any previous evidence of Mr. Costello himself ever singing a song once so completely associated with him.

Similarly, Justin Bond, who appeared wearing a kind of shadowy-gray outfit one might associate with London during the Blitz, ripped through a version of “(I Don’t Want to Go To) Chelsea” which had him scatting like Ella as he forgot the lyrics and, to hilarious effect, confessed his addictions in a manner more often associated with the rooms of AA.

And then there was Raul Esparza. Anyone who has ever heard Mr. Esparza onstage knows there is no question this gifted performer knows how to sell a song. From Sondheim to Jonathan Larson, Esparza becomes his material – and last night was no exception as he tore into “God Give Me Strength” and made it a primeval call for the faith to go on loving in the face of betrayal. It was a brilliant performance which made you wonder if you’d ever before really heard the song. And never again would you hear it without Esparza’s version echoing in your memory.

So much talent packed into one theater for one night. Prior to singing “So Like Candy,” Sherie Rene Scott gave a most endearing speech about her guilt at not being downtown at the Halloween parade where “her people” were, the gays and lesbians. Not that she is one, as she confessed, though she did define herself as “Q for questioning,” and thereafter, launched into a version of “So Like Candy” which should have had more than a few lesbians in attendance waiting at her dressing room door.

There was also Nellie MacKay who worked “Party Girl” in her adorably kewpie doll style as she accompanied herself on the piano, and Billy Porter with a beautiful rendition of “She,” and also Marcy Harriell who bopped her way through “Radio, Radio,” and in so doing, generated an enormous amount of the incredible energy which followed in the performances thereafter.

Complete with Mr. Costello’s own performances at evening’s end, “Brilliant Mistake” was one of those thrilling theatrical evenings in New York which make you realize, yet again, that there was never any mistake in making the choice to settle in this music-rich and performance-heavyweight town.