An impeccable musical storyteller presents a letter-perfect evening of musical storytelling,
by Stephen Mosher Oct. 11, 2021
There was an actress during the first part of the last century that legend tells was the greatest stage actress of her day. People who saw her on the stage vowed that hers was the performance they, most, remembered throughout their lives. It was often said of her that people had a tendency to believe that she was not, in fact, an actress but some ordinary woman off the street who had wandered into the theater, so natural and devoid of affectation was her acting. In his film BROADWAY, THE GOLDEN AGE, Rick McKay devotes an entire section to her, and the influence she had on the theater and on the people who saw her live. Her name was Laurette Taylor.
All throughout her new show A THOUSAND BEAUTIFUL THINGS, it repeatedly occurred to me that Amy Beth Williams is the Laurette Taylor of cabaret.
A most compelling artist, Amy Beth Williams is a consummate storyteller who has either exceptional instincts, an incredible work ethic, or (one suspects) a balance of both. No other way could she have pulled off what she does in A Thousand Beautiful Things – there is a clear presence of an innate talent in storytelling, a quality that can neither be bought nor learned, but when working with three masterful musicians (which she is) there is a necessity for extensive rehearsal. There is also the matter of time spent studying the subtext of a lyric, immersing oneself into the nature of the character, and considering, from without, exactly how and how far one is going to take their audience into the journey. Amy Beth Williams has left no door unopened, no room unexplored, no path forsaken in her ambition to provide excellent storytelling. That is why her storytelling is excellent.
Though Williams’ most recent venture onto the Don’t Tell Mama stage was an hour-long examination of the works of Leonard Cohen, this most recent show is one without theme, though ABW has a friendly framework around which she builds the play without purpose. Speaking in sentences reminiscent of Willa Cather or Carson McCullers, Williams paints perfectly the picture of a childhood spent listening, for protracted periods of time, to records with her father, learning music that would bring to her the outside world. With only that premise, Amy Beth embarks on a musical journey that delighted an audience that was unable to contain themselves for the duration of the show, with sighs being emitted during ballads like “I’ll Be Seeing You” and guffaws ringing in the air for the duration of the epic “Nations Of The World” and cheers (possibly foot stomping) during one of Little Edie’s opera from a Broadway musical about about a Garden that was Grey. In a way, Ms. Williams’ cabaret is a balancing act with legs in two worlds, the one in which we live today, and one from the past, a past close to the era of Laurette Taylor, when cabaret shows flowed with an artistic grace and beautiful mystery.
There is no need for Amy Williams to speak in her show, so when she does speak, it is because she has something to say. In a world and a time riddled with logorrhea, that is a priceless gift. Rather than overshare through conversation, Ms. Williams leaves the storytelling to the characters she is presenting by simply stepping into a shaft of light, where one character awaits, then moving out of that light to sit on a stool, where the next woman will step into the picture. This is cabaret at its most visceral, personal, and accessible, and it comes without grandstanding, without fanfare, with only the gentle turning of the head and the impeccable intonation of the voice, all of which Amy Beth Williams does with the effort that most humans put forth blinking their eyes. This is musical storytelling so masterful as to be unbelievable, so crystal-clear as to compel one to hold one’s breath. One does hold their breath.
With a generous program of eighteen tunes to present in her blissfully concise show (sixty minutes), Ms. Williams needed to have a crackerjack team upon which to rely, and she knew what she was doing when she assembled them. With the intelligent, no-nonsense guidance of Tanya Moberly, Amy Beth wastes no time or energy throughout, keeping the show moving so that, when a musical monologue requires her to do so, she may take her time without fear of the pause – the two women are well matched in both their artistic nature and their follow-through. And behind her, like heroes holding a net into which she can jump, Williams assembles Peter Sachon (cello), Ritt Henn (bass) and Musical Director Ian Herman on piano – each of these gentlemen, alone, are enough to make a music act special, when gathered together, the act is rendered spectacular. ABW says they are “three beautiful things” and truer words could not be spoken, particularly of Herman, whose arrangements are worthy of Amy’s artistry, and vice-versa, as is immediately apparent from the opening “Beautiful Things” mash-up, a highlight out of the gate.
Although the musical program, start to finish, is all worthy of note, other highlights do include Amy’s different comedic turns at “When You’re Traveling From Nantucket” and “Shame and Scandal in the Family” which balance perfectly with the heart-stopping power of back-to-back performances of “Between Yesterday and Tomorrow” and “Lost in the Stars” but guests should keep an eye out for some emotionally character-driven deep dives into Kander & Ebb and Ahrens & Flaherty. Each of these six performances on Saturday night drew audible reactions from an audience so appreciative as to be held constantly captive by the Artistry of Amy.
It cannot be denied that Amy Beth Williams is a cabaret artist of the highest order, producing shows that demand to be seen. It cannot be denied that this A Thousand Beautiful Things is a cabaret of superior quality. It cannot be denied that Amy Beth Williams knows how to entertain her callers, gentlemen or otherwise.
Amy Beth Williams A THOUSAND BEAUTIFUL THINGS plays Don’t Tell Mama on October 24th, November 3rd, and November 18th. For information and tickets visit the Don’t Tell Mama website HERE.
HERE is the Amy Beth Williams website.
Photos by Stephen Mosher