In her show titled “Speak Easy” delightful Carole J. Bufford takes us back to the days of prohibition with songs that recall the era. And what a trip it is! This is no mere theme show. In her performances (May 5, 10, 19 and 24, 2012) at the Metropolitan Room the talented singer works with a rousing musical back-up by the seven-piece band, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, with snappy arrangements and orchestrations by Larry Lees. It’s a full blown show with Bufford looking as if she has just time-traveled from the 1920s.
She’s an eyeful in her black, glitter-trimmed, figure-fitting dress with fringe at the bottom and a sparkling headband. In a Charleston mode, she picks up the beat with snapping fingers, sexy moves and wide-eyed expressions of enthusiasm, as if determined to make sure her audience has the sort of good time they must have had at speakeasies downing the flowing illegal booze. Her voice does the rest.
What’s especially nifty about Bufford is her range. She launches into such fun numbers as “Wet Your Whistle” and “Don’t Put a Tax on Beautiful Girls.” She can switch to a poignant “Love for Sale” or put over “Torch (Torch Song)” with the double entendre “I want to sit atop a piano or an organ.”
Amazingly, this slender performer can belt like a red hot mama of yore when she sings the raunchy “You’ve Got the Right Key, But the Wrong Keyhole.” The power, the sexy spin, the body language—all is there. She also turns up the heat singing “After You’ve Gone.” She has the power to summon memories of Sophie Tucker when she builds a mighty crescendo for “Some of These Days.”
One usually associates “My Mammy” with Al Jolson singing in black face. Bufford bravely gives it a whole new aura and makes it work as a regular number of longing that, she explains, was inspired by family members.
Bufford goads the audience into a sing-along with “Side by Side,” the sort of thing I can generally do without. But she engenders the kind of spirit that makes people want to join in.
It is clear that a lot of effort went into creating this cabaret coup and the result is a polished professional show that creates an illusion of being in one of the joints of the 1920s and also being there when the nonsensical prohibition was finally lifted and one could legitimately drink a toast. For that matter one can drink a toast to Bufford, who deserves recognition for her talent on display with such charm and sophistication. At the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street. Phone: 212-206-0440.