“Chiaroscuro” is the name of the newest one-woman show by New York native Deborah Stone. For those of us not up to date on our Italian, the stunningly charismatic and lovely singer enlightened the audience early on in her performance at Manhattan cabaret hotpot Pangea. Stating, “Don’t be afraid of the word!”, she then gave its definition: the phenomenon of using light and shade to create contrast in artwork. Stone then acknowledged the need to appreciate BOTH the metaphoric light and dark in life itself. Indeed, the singer explored the theme of “contrasts” in the kickoff of the show, via the range of her persona and vocals. On stage, she can be street smart yet sophisticated, fragile yet strong, ambitious yet humble, longing and idyllic yet grounded– and this was all displayed in “Chiaroscuro”‘s opening number alone! That opening number, before you ask, was a medley of songs from such eternal songwriters as Cy Coleman, Stephen Sondheim, Richard Rodgers, and others. During the course of “Chiaroscuro”, Stone demonstrated her talent for choosing songs very well-suited for her impressively supple vocal range and her smooth delivery. While there were some ageless crowd-pleasers in the mix, there were also some underappreciated musical gems just begging to be heard again. After hearing Stone’s feverishly romantic Hot in Here by Amanda McBroom, I was left wondering why I had never heard this quiet scorcher before. Whether the audience knew some of the numbers, or were just hearing them for the first time at Pangea that night, one thing was for certain: Capturing the essence of cabaret in an intimate setting, Deborah Stone truly made each song a personal triumph. Here’s an example: After the show’s opener, Stone’s next number was The Finer Things, which was a Top Ten song for Steve Winwood in the ’80’s. Stone added some much-needed new emotion, depth, and insight into the familiar lyrics, and the result was an extremely lush version of this pop hit from 1987. The same can be said of her musical treatment of Billy Joel’s This Is the Time. She continued with an absolutely haunting version of Moon Over Bourbon Street, which was made even more powerful with the decidedly minimal adornment of bass by Tom Hubbard and of piano by John Cook (who was also the show’s Musical Director). More than a song, it was a melancholy mini-epic set to music… and perhaps the best display of Stone’s persona of cool elegance. That “cool elegance” would be shown again later in the show with If I Sing, with which Stone shared a deeply personal recollection about her inspirational mother. It was also, yet again, a showcase for the connection between the singer and her musicians; the synergy between Stone’s voice and Cook’s piano was particularly vivid.
Of course, no exploration of chiaroscuro would be complete without showing the contrasting tones of every cabaret performer’s favorite subject: love. One of Stone’s selections was the achingly beautiful It Would Have Been Wonderful, where Stone hit some astonishingly impressive notes. In this case, the “ache” in “achingly beautiful” is … heartache. But just when the audience believed that the singer couldn’t tug at our heartstrings any further, next up was Little Girl Blue. From the oh-so-familiar opening lyrics “Sit there and count your fingers; What can you do? Old girl you’re through…”, the attendees knew that the song would be a scorcher. Still, Stone offered an appropriately hopeful take on this “put-the-‘blue’-in-‘blues'” classic, appropriately segueing into the absolutely delectable jazz standard Bluesette. In a show featuring one highlight after another, one of the greatest moments of the 65-minute set was hearing Stone sing the lyrics “Love wrapped in rainbows and tied with pink ribbons; To make your next springtime your gold wedding ring time!” It was enough to restore anyone’s faith in L-O-V-E., Next up was That Sunday, This Summer, a song inspired by “when a sweet memory wrapped in a beautiful day just hits you so hard”. Any song with the word “whippoorwill” in the lyrics is going to get points with this reviewer, but no matter the words, Stone’s voice was perfectly suited for the luscious melody. It was also a fine moment of Cook’s exceptional piano work. A huge crowd-pleaser came with the ageless Stephen Sondheim classic The Ladies Who Lunch. Stone’s treatment of this story-song was the epitome of well-mannered sarcasm. All I can say is, “I’ll drink to that!”
Yet another highlight of Deborah Stone’s show was her performance of Audrey Appleby’s Picasso Woman, a highly original, provocative, and funny song about the appreciation of unconventional “belleza”. With lyrics every bit as indulgent as the title suggests, Stone has a good time with this one, although there is a bit of irony considering the singer’s own classic beauty. The final number of “Chiaroscuro” was another Steve Winwood song, a zesty version of Back in the High Life Again. This reviewer, for one, enjoyed Stone’s take on the 1986 hit better than the mid-tempo original. And yes, there was an encore. I won’t give it away, but I will say Stone’s choice of this beloved Richard Rogers classic could very much be interpreted as a musical interpretation of love and appreciation for her audience. For those in attendance at Pangea on Tuesday, July 26th, the love and appreciation was absolutely reciprocal.
“Deborah Stone: Chiaroscuro” is directed by Lina Koutrakos with Musical Direction by John Cook, with Cook on piano and Tom Hubbard on bass. Stone’s next show will be on Sunday, October 9th at 7PM at The Laurie Beechman Theatre, 407 W42nd Street, New York City. Visit Deborah Stone’s official website here.