For Real 2.0

By Joel Benjamin April 14, 2014

Cynthia Farrell took the stage at the Metropolitan Room on April 10th with the determined tread of a tough cookie, her sharp features emphasized by a pixie hairdo, but when she opened her mouth to sing she revealed vulnerability and pathos. Her successful professional career, which includes dubbing a voice for an immensely popular foul-mouthed video game character, was nearly undermined by a deteriorating marriage which began, like most, as a true romance.

Stephen Schwartz’s “Chanson” evoked her contentment in everyday pleasures while “100 Years” (Five for Fighting) went even further in its suggestion of life’s wonders at every age. Both songs were sung in a soft but deep voice, savoring every emotion. She used her tenderly rendered “Loving You” (Sondheim) and “I Have a Love” (Bernstein/Sondheim) to express her almost blind dedication to her soon to be ex, the latter sounding more weary than passionate. She visited her Latino side in Roman Rojas’ “Oscuridad” and mentioned some very poor advice her mother gave her which brought Ms. Farrell’s marriage only closer to dissolution.

Her “Both Sides Now” (Joni Mitchell) was slow and, for once, had deep personal resonance while her interpretation of Sondheim’s “Move On,” though superficially upbeat, was acted with just a touch of desperation. Michel Legrand’s “Piece of Sky,” the title character in Streisand’s Yentl’s anthem, was stripped of overwrought emotions with which it’s usually performed and given a small-scale intensity that registered like a lasar beam in the confines of this small cabaret room.

Her yearnings came through loud and clear in Sondheim’s “Being Alive.” But, it was a sweet, lovely “Blackbird” (Paul McCartney) that ended the program on a quiet note.

The arrangements by her music director/accompanist Fran Minarik were sophisticated, often creating exciting tension between the vocal and piano lines. His versions of these well-known songs were always fresh.

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My View Stephen Sorokoff: Cynthia Farrell – A Voice To Be Heard

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STEPHEN-SOROKOFF-4147-300x232Usually the thick velvet curtains that separate the bar area from the performance room of the Metropolitan Room prevent you from hearing a vocalist. Not so with Cynthia Farrell. Her thick velvet dexterous and powerful voice resounded gloriously in all corners of this famed 22nd street bastion for singers.  The title of her show says a lot, “For Real” and Cynthia is definitely the real deal. The intensity and earnestness she brings to her performance can at times be quite mesmerizing.  Check her out, you’ll be treated to a “real” voice singing some of those Broadway “real’ songs.

Cynthia Farrell

June 29, 2013 | By  |

“Cynthia Farrell for Real”

Don’t Tell Mama – July 23, 25, 31

Cynthia FarrellWith her smooth, controlled, powerful voice, her deep concentration, and her diligent attention to enunciation and phrasing, Cynthia Farrell, now making her cabaret debut at Don’t Tell Mama, is a talent to keep a sharp eye on. The emotional intensity she can bring to a song, along with the way she pronounces certain words while singing, call to mind the spell-weaving early work of Jane Olivor. At one point in the evening, Farrell notes that she’s “half Mexican.” But there’s something in the way she sings certain phrases that sounds Irish (something her surname would support). Whatever her heritage, she’s a singer with presence.

The highlight of the set is a moving, flawlessly executed medley of Stephen Sondheim’s “Loving You” and Leonard Bernstein and Sondheim’s “I Have a Love.” Every note of the medley is full-bodied, assured, and lovely. Together, the pair of songs becomes a confession of romantic obsession and a coming to terms with that obsession. Farrell smiles at moments at the hopelessness of her overpowering devotion, but it’s a wise smile—and therefore a slightly sad one.

Farrell’s program has an autobiographical slant. She and writer-director James Horvath have created a story arc about finding love, starting a family, having it all fall apart, and then rebounding through a program of self-reflection and inner-strength building. It’s a familiar tack, of course, to build an act around one’s personal journey. It’s not what I would have recommended for a debut show, but for the most part, Farrell makes it work—although the narrative thread gets lost during parts of the program. The most interesting use of a song in service of her personal tale is the repurposing of Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg’s “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead” as a celebration of the exorcism of the witch-like part of her personality that emerged following the collapse of her marriage This song is the lightest fare of the evening—and the jazz-inflected arrangement gives Farrell a chance to do some sprightly scat singing. On the night I saw her, “Ding-Dong!” was a crowd pleaser.

Not all of the selections are as effective. I believe this is due in part to some of the arrangements by musical director and pianist Fran Minarik, which tend to be heavy on dissonance and a kind of edgy, experimental quality that sometimes proves distracting. For instance, the opening number, Bernstein and Sondheim’s “Something’s Coming,” is outfitted with a kind of avant-garde boogie-woogie underpinning that doesn’t serve the singer at all. Here I felt Farrell was swimming upstream against the current of Minarik’s playing.

But—like the Sondheim/Bernstein medley—other selections, such as the trembling-with-emotion “100 Years” (John Ondrasik), are delivered in a graceful, resonant voice. Farrell gets to show off her talent for belting on two forceful numbers that close the program: Sondheim’s “Being Alive” and Michel Legrand and Marilyn and Alan Bergman’s “A Piece of Sky.” I would have advised her to pick one of these and discard the other in favor of something less bombastic. She does return to a quieter mode for her encore, Lennon and McCartney’s “Blackbird.” There are some moments of phrasing in that number that suggest that Farrell would do well to add some blues-oriented selections in future shows. I’d also like to hear what she can do with something in a swinging, lilting key—perhaps some up-tempo Gershwin or Berlin. As with her inclusion of “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead,” such additions might offset the dramatic selections, thereby making them seem even stronger and more poignant.