Tour-de-Force Tanya Strikes Again, this time with Misters Schwartz and Sondheim.
by Stephen Mosher Aug. 23, 2022
Since January the versatile virtuosa vocalist has been doing a residency at Don’t Tell Mama titled MOBERLY AT MAMA’S MONTHLY, the hook of which is that Tanya does six different shows with six different Musical Directors, each show focused on different and specific genres of music. To keep everyone up-to-date: since January Ms. Moberly has done an evening of Seals & Croft/Cat Stevens/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young with Sean Harkness, she has performed Amy Winehouse/Ani Di Franco/Rickie Lee Jones/Joni Mitchell with Ritt Henn, she has taken on Led Zeppelin/The Beatles with Ian Herman, and for the last two months Tanya has been working alongside Mark Janas to present the songs of Stephen Sondheim and Stephen Schwartz. While it would have been wonderful to catch every iteration of Moberly At Mama’s Monthly, we at Broadway World Cabaret are a tiny team of correspondents and much of the review action falls to this writer who knows less about the other artists profiled in the series than he does about the two Stephens. So, with delicious anticipation and happy patience, I waited over half the year to see Tanya take on Sondheim and Schwartz.
It has been said that the waiting is the best part but that is, categorically, not true in this case: the best part was the performance.
Tanya Moberly can, seemingly, sing anything. Although we have yet to see any opera on her roster, if Tanya Moberly suddenly announced an evening of Offenbach and Wagner, one would not be surprised. However, Tanya does, regularly, tend toward a more rock-based program. Looking at the past editions of the MONTHLY series, a person could close their eyes and conjure images of Tanya rocking out to Led Zeppelin, Ani Di Franco, and Crosby & co., and although it is well-known that Moberly started out as an actress in musical theater, it simply isn’t on-brand to think of Tanya Moberly belting The Broadway. But she can. And she does. And she did. And it was out of this world.
One of the wonderful things about Tanya Moberly is that she has a formula: she knows what she likes, she knows what works for her, and she stays in her lane. You can usually count on the structure of a Tanya Moberly show to be consistent with what has been seen in the past: there is an opening number, there is an informative welcoming monologue, and then there is a total absence of conversation until the end-of-the-show thank you speech. Only the musical compositions are presented between the two spoken bookends, allowing Moberly to make the focus of the storytelling the stories themselves. There are no introductions to the songs, no wordy explanations of why she likes them, and no unnecessary backstories behind their creations – Tanya takes the words and the music and the characters in the stories and presents them, one by one, as though paintings in a gallery that one spends a few minutes observing and examining before moving on to the next. She is on the stage and in the room in service of the stories and of the audience, and her dedication to both keeps her present, in the moment, and always honest.
With treatments by Mr. Janas that are sometimes straightforwardly committed to preserving the original arrangements and, other times, boldly determined to explore new territory, Tanya Moberly gave her August 19th audience one hour and twenty songs by Schwartz and Sondheim, sometimes each on their own, and sometimes mashed-up and medleyed into twos and threes, and Janas (who had his work cut out for him) did a splendid job of keeping the intent on track. Not one of the twosome’s attempts came up short, as this singing actress jumped, like a precisely placed ping pong ball, from character to character, weeping her way through both a tender “Lion Tamer” and an impassioned “Meadowlark” and sassing up the room with to-the-letter perfect musical monologues of “Last Midnight” and “It’s An Art” – it was nothing short of breathtaking. It is one thing to watch a heavy metal and folk devotee present the famous stories of our rock and roll idols, but here are characters from plays that Tanya Moberly is presenting; when you take these soliloquies out of context and put them before an audience that may or may not know their origin, an actor has to do double duty in their efforts to tell the stories, the artist must remain articulate. For Tanya Moberly that would appear to be something akin to cutting an ice cream cake with a hot knife. It is genuinely awe-inspiring to see an actor of such skill jockey back and forth between something as forthright as “I Guess I’ll Miss The Man” and a creation as seductive as “Sooner Or Later,” and always with impressive vocal training and interesting acting choices. Indeed, Moberly managed to find layers to “Children and Art” and “Everybody Loves Louis” that rank as totally original, absolutely her own, findings heretofore uncovered: it was refreshing to see new ideas brought to songs so oft sung by so many others. Speaking personally, Moberly’s performance of “The Miller’s Son” was the best this writer has seen or heard since the Liz Callaway version on the 1983 RCA double album A Stephen Sondheim EVENING.
It’s a shame that the program Moberly and Janas offered for the July and August installments of Moberly at Mama’s Monthly lived for only two performances but the near- sold-out houses of cabaret aficionados that were lucky enough (smart enough) to get their bumms into the seats out front will, no doubt, remember the experience fondly for a long time. So resplendent a night of musical theater storytelling doesn’t actually come along as often as one might think, and it takes a committed storytelling actor like Tanya Moberly to take a dive so deep as to create such a night for her fans as this one was. But this is the deal that Tanya and those fans signed up for: two performances only of each of these special nights, and with a rotating cast of composers and Musical Directors, Ms. Moberly has to stay on track, so the two Stephens will be returned to the music library from which they came so Tanya Moberly can focus on her next honorees, and people can undoubtedly expect that these subsequent shows will be just as detailed and profound as those that have filled these last eight months, all of which have, most certainly, been wonderful.
I’m just really glad that I chose the two Stephens for my month with Moberly – it was, for me, the right call.
The remaining performances of MOBERLY AT MAMA’S MONTHLY look like this:
For detailed information on Moberly At Mama’s Monthly and for reservations visit the Don’t Tell Mama website HERE.
Photos by Stephen Mosher