Lindsay Mendez at 54 Below

 

Lindsay Mendez

 

by Ron Fassler

 

As she modestly states near the start of her new cabaret show, which opened last night at Feinstein’s/54 Below, Lindsay Mendez has had a very good year. It began at the end of last February, when from the first preview performance of the revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, she instantly began winning over audiences as turn-of-the-century New England’s virginal Carrie Pipperidge. Last June, it brought her the season’s Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, even though this self-described “Mexican Jewess” (half-Russian-Jewish and half-Mexican), admitted that when she got the part, she was stunned to be so wildly cast against type. Still, in only her dozen or so years as a working professional, Mendez has already proven that with every opportunity given, she turns in one winning performance after another.

Mendez made her Broadway debut in the 2007 revival of Grease, and from there went on to became one of many who have taken the journey down Oz’s Yellow Brick Road, green skin and all, to play Elphaba in Wicked. Then she made several more stops along the way at other Broadway musicals and plays, like the 2011 revival of Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell and Joshua Harmon’s Significant Other in 2017. Not to mention a significant Off-Broadway turn as Rose Fenny in Peter Duchan, Justin Paul & Benj Pasek’s Dogfight, which won the 2013 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical.

Last night, in her scheduled three-performance engagement, running selected evenings through October 29th at Feinstein’s/54 Below, Mendez played to a packed house, backed by a super-talented six-piece band. Under the musical direction of Brian Perry, who provided the evening’s excellent piano accompaniment, I’m sorry that I can’t add to his name the group of musicians who were on guitar, violin, bass or cello, as no printed list was available. But I did catch the name of the drummer, as he surprisingly turned out to be Mendez’s husband, Philip Wakefield (who together, performed a charming duet). It was the largest band I’ve ever seen squeezed onto the small 54 Below stage, and the sound they made would have any future center stage artists lucky indeed to have these well-orchestrated players (in every sense of the word) play behind them.

 

 

An engaging and self-effacing storyteller, Mendez’s brief snippets of personal information were effortlessly well-timed and often very funny, superbly setting up each song that followed. From her well-chosen opening song 1954’s “Stuff Like That There,” previously performed by the likes of Betty Hutton and Bette Midler, Mendez brought her own comic sensibility and sexiness to Ray Evans and Jay Livingston’s sly words and music. The song has her asking for “some huggin’ and some squeezin’/and some muggin’ and some teasin’/and some stuff like that there,” which the audience sent her by way of vibes and good wishes from that moment on, right up until her encore, which was Mendez’s attempt to give back to Carrie Pipperidge a bit of what she gave her this past year, serenading us with “When I Marry Mr. Snow.” Another highlight, was her devotion to recreating from her childhood singing and dancing in front of the television, a salute to Vivian Vance and her classic rendition of “Lily of the Valley,” from the episode of I Love Lucy in which Lucy and Company put on an operetta. It was not only a loving rendition; it was off-the-wall hilarious (or at least it was to this fellow I Love Lucy devotee).

Would have liked to hear Ms. Mendez cite more information about the composer/lyricist for more of the songs she sang.  I’m sure audience members would find that helpful.

But a whole lot of great music is still ripe for the picking this fall season at Lindsay Mendez’s final two shows, this week and next, at Feinstein’s/54 Below. Do what you can to catch her in this artful cabaret performance before all the leaves have left the trees. Escape from the cold and bask in the warm pleasure of her company, as equally thrilling an exhibition of her many talents as her next Broadway musical will be; one both fortunate and smart enough to cast her.

 

Photo: Melissa Griegel – Griegel Photography

 

Lindsay Mendez at Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 West 54 Street (cellar), NYC

Show Dates: October 21st, October 27th and October 29th.

 

 

 

 

 

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