Memo to producers of Broadway musicals: If you want to develop a great, new singing talent for future hits, catch the current “Body & Soul” show of Carole J. Bufford at the Metropolitan Room. She has the voice, the looks, the pizzazz and the ability to act out a range of emotions from the depths of her soul to comedic heights required for her astonishingly wide range of material. Meanwhile, in the art of cabaret, she soars as a bright star of her contemporary generation, having just won a 2013 Nightlife Award as Outstanding Cabaret Performer. Her career continues on the upswing.
It was thrilling to watch her perform her latest program, conceived and produced by entrepreneur Scott Siegel, with remaining performances in her six-show run set for February 6, 13, 20 and 27. Bufford is accompanied on piano by her musical director and arranger Ian Herman and on upright bass by Matt Wigton.
For starters she looked dazzling in her shimmering, silver, off-the shoulder, body-hugging floor length-gown with a side slit that flashed a shapely leg when she sat on a stool. Her overall appearance is sexy-perky, especially when she uses her bright eyes, winsome smile an engaging manner. When searing emotions are required to accommodate the demands of a particular song, her voice erupts into rich fullness reflecting unbridled passion. And yet she can effect a quick turn toward winking whimsy.
I’ve caught her performances in various venues—Feinstein’s, the Mabel Mercer Foundation Cabaret Convention at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Nightlife Awards at The Town Hall and previously at the Metropolitan Room. I am consistently struck by her broad range. In this show she starts with an amusingly spirited rendition of “Your Kisses Kill Me” (music by Steve Lawrence, lyrics by Mack Discant), then switches to Cole Porter’s demanding “What Is This Thing Called Love?”
She then moves into a sweet but sad mode with “I Love the Way You’re Breaking My Heart” (music and lyrics by Milton Drake and Louis Alter), extracting the most out of plaintive lines like, “It’s gonna hurt tomorrow but it feels so good now.” In a minute she turns on a hot mama style with “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home” (music and lyrics by Charles Warfield and Clarence Williams). In yet another style switch Bufford gives an ultra-intense interpretation of the pensive “Fade Into You” (music and lyrics by Trevor Rosen, Shane McAnally and Matt Jenkins).
Bufford enjoys providing a bit of history to numbers, especially when one presents an opportunity for some fun, as with “Good Time Girl.” A Sherman brothers song that started out for Disney’s “Mary Poppins” but was cut, it surfaced in the stage musical “Over Here!” starring Maxine and Patty Andrews of the Andrews Sisters, under the nomer “The V-D Polka,” warning against the risk of venereal disease from good time girls. Bufford gets into an Andrews Sisters singing style with the power of all three of them and takes mischievous delight in singing a lyric like “Though she may look like Venus she may not be the cleanest.”
Extolling the ability of Broadway musicals to produce musical depth because songs are written for characters, Bufford launches into “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man of Mine” from “Show Boat” (music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II), a much-sung number by a retinue of star performers. Bufford matches the best of them. In more such challenging territory, she delivers powerful renditions of the torchy “Body and Soul” (music by Johnny Green, lyrics by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour and Frank Eyton) and “Cry Me a River” (music and lyrics by Arthur Hamilton).
Irony and sarcasm are the order of the moment when she sings “Say That We’re Sweethearts Again” (music and lyrics by Earl Brent), the wry, a dark-humored lament of a terribly abused woman. Bufford gets the nuances painfully but entertainingly right. She sings different revenge pairings with “I Wanna Be Around” (music and lyrics by Johnny Mercer and Sadie Vimmerstedt) and “Goody Goody” (music by Matty Malneck, lyrics by Johnny Mercer).
It is also impressive to see her switch gears with such numbers as the romantically funny “Low , Short and Squatty” (composer and lyricist apparently unknown, but taken from a 1946 film short directed by William Forest Crouch and starring Vanita Smythe); “Suzanne” (music and lyrics by Randy Newman, a favorite of Buffford); “Cottage for Sale” (music by Willard Robison, lyrics by Larry Conley), and “Big Bad Handsome Man” (music and lyrics by Imelda Mary Higham).
As if all this were not eclectic enough, encompassing songs written from 1919 to last year, as an encore Bufford tops it off in French with the Edith Piaf-associated “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” (music by Charles Dumont, lyrics by Michel Vaucaire). I have no regrets spending an evening listening to Carole J. Bufford. Au contraire, it was an exhilarating experience, and I came away eagerly pondering just how deservedly far this very special singer will go in the wide world of show business. At the Metropolitan Room, 34 W 22nd Street. Phone: 212-206-0440. Reviewed January 24, 2013.