In 2004, Broadway superstar Audra McDonald launched a new song cycle at Carnegie Hall. Called The Seven Deadly Sins, it revolved around different works for the soprano voice, structured as a look at each of the seven deadly sins.
In 2014 Avigail Herman has taken inspiration from this idea, and, with the core of the setlist from Audra McDonald’s concert still intact, crafted Good Girl/Bad Girl, part of the Slide Cabaret Festival.
The seed of the idea for Herman’s homage/re-appropriation is in the song for ‘sloth’ – “My Book”, by Jeff Blumenkrantz. Herman is playing the part of a struggling writer with a raging case of writer’s block. Using the oft-relied upon (possibly too oft, of late) structural device as a support group, Herman confesses her previous pride and subsequent fall from creative grace, and how she’s ended up here, having missed several deadlines and only written three of her seven required short stories.
It’s a charming show and Herman sings with an ease that’s both startling and endearing; it’s not every day someone can toss off top notes with an airy-sweet, Olivia Newton-John quality, but Herman does it all through the night. When it really, really lands, she smiles, because she knows she’s done it, and it’s a somehow shared gratitude in the satisfaction of a well-placed note.
The real standout moment, vocally and overall, is when Herman gets to the gluttony stage of her checklist and sings “I Eat”, an Ahrens/Flaherty tune written specifically for Audra McDonald and her show. It’s a sad, haunting, painfully beautiful melody, shame and sadness and lament, and Herman slips into it. The ease disappears into a kind of upheaval from the gut into the mouth – she sings flawlessly, but this felt like an excavation of feeling rather than an easy, uninhibited offering of song.
The Wednesday night crowd took a while to warm up to the show – the pretty Melody Beck opening act and slow burn of Herman’s show meant that it wasn’t until somewhere near the end of the set that she really won them all over. Singing a tidbit from a well-known song an audience member sang out “Sing it all!”
While Herman didn’t comply (her show is too tightly scripted and running to specific time), it was a moment that achieved, finally, the kind of audience/performer closeness, the performance of intimacy, that all good cabaret should have.