Saturday, April 19, 2014

Review: Storm watch

Storm Large at the Aladdin Theatre
Portland, Oregon, 2012
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Who: Storm Large and her Four-Piece Band
What: Taken by Storm: Songs of Seduction and Obsession
When: Friday and Saturday, April 11 and 12, 2014
Where: The Gaslight Cabaret Festival

Storm Large (yes, that's her real name) seems to be a one-woman entertainment conglomerate: rock star, author, actor, songwriter, and creator of the much-praised one-woman show "Crazy Enough" (based on her memoir of the same name).

No surprise, then, that her show " Taken by Storm: Songs of Seduction and Obsession" defied easy categorization. It was at least as much rock as cabaret (especially in its attitude), but it was solidly theatrical as well.

The important thing, though, is that it was entertaining as hell. The show Ms. Large and her four-piece band put on was a bit long by cabaret standards (over 90 minutes) but it felt shorter. That's because Ms. Large was such a hypnotic, compelling, and energetic performer. Statuesque, slinky (in a "poured into it" gold gown), and blessed with a powerful, seamless voice, she bounded on stage and immediately grabbed the audience's attention with a powerful rock anthem–styled version of Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin" (which she describes as a classic song of obsession).

She kept that attention through an impressively varied mix of songs by everybody from Jacques Brel (a just-this-side-of-creepy "Ne Me Quitte Pas), to "Sacred Love" by the punk band Bad Brains (the original vocal track of which was recorded by lead singer Paul Hudson from jail), to James Shelton's rueful "Lilac Wine," about drowning feelings of lost love. She did Tom Waits's "Saving All My Love for You" with all the "looking up from the bottom of the barrel" poetry you could ask for. The sappy "Hopelessly Devoted to You" (from the film version of "Grease), on the other hand, was done from the POV of a borderline psychotic dominatrix ("I think that's a better message for our young people," Ms. Large observed). And there were even a couple of the singer's own compositions, including the ultimate break-up number "I Want You to Die."

And if that weren't enough, at about the point where I began thinking that Ms. Large's over-the-top, irresistibly dramatic stage persona might be a good fit for a Jim Steinman rock anthem, she gave us exactly that: the 1983 Bonnie Tyler hit "Total Eclipse of the Heart" (I had been hoping for "Nowhere Fast," but what the heck). And, since Ms. Large apparently can't do anything predictable, she turned it into an audience participation number. At one point she asked us all to sing "turn around, bright eyes" as though we were "little gay fairies" (the kind with wings) and darned if we didn't give it our best shot.

Ms. Large's songwriting talents, by the way, aren't limited to revenge numbers. Her next to closing song, "Angels in Gas Stations," was a beautiful little slice-of-romantic-life poem ("God is every damn where tonight," runs the refrain), while her "8 Miles Wide" was a cheerfully upbeat and totally outrageous declaration of female empowerment. "My vagina is eight miles wide," goes the refrain to that one. "Absolutely everyone can come inside / If you're ever frightened, just run and hide." OK, then.

Accompanying Ms. Large were pianist and (I assume) music director James Beaton, guitarist Matt Brown, bass guitarist Scott Weddle, and drummer Greg Eklund. They all rocked the house and (if YouTube is any indication) they have all performed with Ms. Large often enough to be very comfortable with both her and with each other.

So, yeah, Storm Large's show did not fit into any easy niches and was not for the easily offended. But the cabaret tent is a big one (maybe even eight miles wide…), so there's plenty of room for high-energy hijinks by performers like Storm Large and her band. And only a dedicated Puritan or some other variety of killjoy could have failed to have a good time there. Thanks to Jim Dolan for continuing to bring a great variety of cabaret talent to town.

The Gaslight Cabaret Festival concludes April 25 and 26 with Lara Teeter's "Lucky to Be Me." For more information:

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