Saturday, October 27, 2007

She does Channing, Garland, Merman, and LuPone, but remarkably Maggie Graham is no drag queen.

Ain't No Drag

Starring Maggie Graham
The Triad158 W. 72nd St.
Sat. 9 p.m.
Through year-end
$25 plus two drinks
212-868-4444 or
As I was leaving Maggie Graham's entertaining cabaret "Carol Channeling," an elderly audience member turned to her companion and asked, "Was she a drag queen?"
Well, no, she's actually a beautiful and talented young woman with a powerful set of pipes who in her 70- minute act impersonates Carol Channing channeling various living and deceased divas of the Great White Way from Garland through LuPone to Chenowith and Menzel. But she could learn a trick or two from a good drag queen.
Graham has a super voice and can bang out a brassy number with the best of them. Wearing her frowzy ash blond Channing wig and a red sequin drop hem dress with fringe, she plants her legs like fresh saplings on the stage and leans slightly forward in the best ex-chorus gal turned Broadway belter style.
The ridiculous and unnecessary conceit of the show, something about Carol going to the dentist for a loose tooth and suddenly becoming a kind of radio receiver for her musical theater colleagues, is just an excuse for Graham's homage to the ladies who munch scenery and dine out on catchy melodies and zippy lyrics. She obviously loves all these gals and she sings some of their biggest hits straight, with no embellishments or topically changed lyrics. Her voice is all throaty gravel when she does Channing's signature "Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend" and brilliantly captures LuPone's nasal electric syrup tones for "You're the Top." Less effective , or recognizable actually, is her Doris Day doing "I Have a Secret Love" or Angela Lansbury singing "If He Walked Into My Life" from "Mame."

But where the drag queen tutoring could help Graham is in recognizing that impersonation is based on significant and comedic exaggeration, a rule she follows only intermittently. Still, the trio version she does of LuPone (really her most dead-on imitation), Bernadette Peters, and the Merm doing "Rose's Turn" is worth the 25-buck cover and two-drink minimum.
"Carol Channeling" is a really fun evening and Graham has the zest and verve to pull it off, especially in the caring hands of her cutie pie musical director and pianist Aaron Beck. While the framing device and inane patter should just be scraped, what's great about Graham is her real stage presence that shines through the impersonation. I mean it as a compliment that the act made me crazy curious to hear how she would sing, just her, not through the lens of anyone else's style. I'll bet it would be something to see and hear.

©GayCityNews 2007

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