Village Players' 'piano girl' a very pleasant surprise

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DOUG DEUCHLER

Village Players has opened their season with a unique offering. It's an original cabaret revue titled, "Bars: The Girl on the Piano," featuring the talented and lovely Lisa Zane.

I was anticipating nothing more than a singer and her pianist on a bar stage, but this show is so much more "filled out." Each number is a separate story. Miss Zane is an exciting performer, equally adept at acting and singing. Her passionate music, crossing many genres and styles, is offered in a variety of dramatic set-ups featuring other players and an assortment of musicians in various combinations. It's more than just a one-woman concert, although Zane, in a variety of stunning black dresses, is indeed the star of each piece. The show is all about saloon singing, a subject apparently quite dear to her heart.

Zane's torchy style includes a repertoire of Spanish and French songs as well as new works, cool jazz, and beloved old American standards like Judy Garland's "The Man that Got Away."

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At first the show presents a chronological glance at the history of nightspots and nightlife. Zane is stunning as Lulu, a Parisian singer in a Montmartre dive known for its violent Apache dancing. In the next scene, set in Berlin in the '30s, she seductively sips green absinthe while singing a Marlene Dietrich-like song that brings to mind the dark, haunting music of Kurt Weill. She loves Johnny, she moans, yet he's such a mean "rot."

In a lively number set in Franco's Spain, she is joined by tourists and Spanish musicians. In her flouncy dress she clutches a rosary in the same fist as her microphone while singing "en Espanol" in her strong, rich voice.

In a sequence playing a band singer in a beret, she belts the old Johnny Frigo jazz favorite, "I Told You I Love You, Now Get Out," accompanied by a wailing saxophone. During a Bossa Nova-style Brazilian number in which she's holding a glistening martini, she pauses to set down her drink and dance between verses.

In the blackouts between numbers recorded set-ups fill in. During some breaks, poetry, like Gwendolyn Brooks' "We Real Cool" and Dorothy Parker's "You Might As Well Live," is used with no identification or tribute to its source.

Zane is bizarrely dark in one Gothic number. In another bit, which doesn't work quite as well as the others, she plays Lorna Luft-the other daughter of Judy Garland-on Oscar night while sibling Liza Minelli is being given her Academy Award on the barroom TV set.

She closes the evening with Willie Nelson's "Night Life." It's a rigorous, lively show, yet the singer seems such an effortless performer, she never appears taxed or spent.

The raven-haired singer (whose family's original Greek surname was Zanikopolous) is the older sister of movie actor Billy Zane. Lisa herself has been a working actress since the 1980s, appearing onstage as well as in numerous films and TV series. On "E.R.," for instance, she played a wealthy young woman who was bedding George Clooney.

The Village Players evening, which lasts about 70 minutes with no break, is swiftly paced and sophisticated. Zane's presence as a performer is powerful.

Alison Henderson is the director and choreographer. Andrew Chuierman is the musical director and also plays the piano. The female drummer (who also plays a seniorita with a flower behind her ear in one bit) is Devonney Dean; Larry "Le Cover" Mileska plays saxophone; and Kevin Conlin and Chris Zamora are guitarists. The other cast members, who sing and dance and play an assortment of bits, are Jim Farrell, Cortney McKenna, Stuart Ritter, and Kevin Swatek.

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The sound effects-background noise that covers everything from noisy rain to crowds mumbling before a show-perfectly establish the setting for each sequence.

The stage is vividly decorated in reds and browns, depicting a bar at the right and a bandstand at the top center. A few tiny cabaret tables and a red lamp with a fringed shade complete the barroom setting.

This special Lisa Zane evening offers an exciting array of world culture and musicality. We're lucky to have a talent of her caliber in our community this month. Her show is as good as any sophisticated cabaret evening you might find in New York City.

By the way, besides enjoying this wonderful performance, you really need to witness Village Players' newly renovated theater facade and see their terrific new lobby and windows. The place looks swell.

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