By Tulis Mccall
Early on in her one woman show, Prisoner of Love, Andrea Bell Wolff lets you know that she is a theatre brat – like some people are Army brats. She was drafted into the first national tour of Hello Dolly with the most famous Dolly of them all, Carol Channing. She had a small-ish role as Ermengarde – niece of Dolly’s love interest Horace Vandergelder. She soon got the role of Minny Faye, the adorable and spunky assistant to Irene Malloy who owned the famous hat shop. She was 17 when she joined the road trip and stayed on the road with many a Dolly. It is easy to see how she must have appealed to the directors as well as the audiences. At 4’11” she packs a powerful punch.
In this most recent show it is clear that she is maturing as a solo artist. Gone are the back-up singers, and as I recall there was a costume change in her previous show. Wolff is taking the stage all on her own and is backed up by a phenominal ensemble. Pianist Matthew Martin Ward leads a quartet that includes bassist Boots Maleson, Violinist Rob Thomas and percussionist Howie Gordon. Wolff could not ask for a better support system.
Her choices of material, however, are not as solid as one would hope. She does hit a few out of the park and exhibits a spot on understanding of of betrayal and revenge. Could I Leave You by Stephen Sondheim and Other Lady by Ellen Weston and Leslie Gore are exactly what their titles indicate. Wolff serves them up hot. Guess Who I Saw Today was also pulled off – and I was surprised because I am a huge fan of Marilyn Maye who has almost made this song her own. Wolff delivers this with a brittle almost Mob Wife approach, and she had me right up until the end when the choice was made to eliminate the last blow by not including the final word.
There were also odd combinations of songs. Unchained Melody by the Righteous Brothers rubbed shoulders with If I Take You Home Tonight by Paul McCartney. Miss Ottis Regrets by Cole Porter paired up with Man Down by Shontelle/ Rock City. Neither was a good match, and these strong songs would possibly do better on their own.
As the show wound up Wolff concluded with IF by Comdon and Green – a hilarious comedic lament about what could have been if the guy wasn’t such a schmuck. Wolff came close to nailing this one – another song delivered by a strong female character, but her articulation was a bit garbled. She over emoted River by Joni Mitchell, which is actually a good choice for her if she would let the song do the work. Her final number, the iconic This is My Life by Bruno Canfora was delicious, and in some ways I think THIS is the anthem for her evening. Wolff is a woman who has charted her own course. She is determined and strong. That is the woman I want to hear from. The musical path set out for her here is meandering at best and can be confusing which means we don’t listen as well as we would like to.
Broadway, regional theater and Las Vegas star, Andrea Bell Wolff, continues her run of “Prisoner of Love,” with Matthew Martin Ward stepping in to the spot held so elegantly by Maestro Barry Levitt, who suddenly passed away on September 21st. There is one remaining performance at Don’t Tell Mama on November 11th at 5:30pm. Don’t Tell Mama, 343 West 46th Street. Phone after 4pm weekdays: 212.757.0788 ext. 6