Deborah Stone: Still Exactly Where I Belong
Woody Regan at the piano
Ann McCormack, Director
I never seem to get to jazz and cabaret performances very often, but Deborah Stone’s performance, Still Exactly Where I Belong, at Don’t Tell Mama was memorable, and I’ll be ready for her next appearance, probably in the fall. This was a gem of charm, intimacy, and meticulous musical preparation combined with a personal, heartfelt relationship to the songs. Ms. Stone is a versatile artist, having interwoven careers as an actress, singer, and above all dancer. All were active—and interacting—in her show.
Born and raised in New York City, Deborah began her studies at the age of eight at the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School, where she studied with Margaret Craske, Alfredo Corvino, and Antony Tudor. After that she continued her ballet training with Nadine Revene and expanded into the world of jazz dance, studying with Lynn Simonson. Deborah went on to perform with The Linea Dance Company with Yvonne Hicks and the New Jersey Classic Ballet with Lori Picinich, and danced as a show-girl/dancer in several revues, both in New York City and in a Dallas revue produced by Augie and Margot Rodriguez, choreographed by Ronn Forella. She studied acting with Hal Holden at HB studios in New York City. A part in the Los Angeles production of the musical, La Cage aux Folles, led to an extended period in California, where she taught dance and performed. She returned to New York in 2002 and decided to perfect her singing—studying with Ingrid Zeldin.
Deborah Stone’s program covered much of the range of what we call the American Songbook, and the composers, lyricists, and original performers read like an honor roll of its leading lights: Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Vernon Duke, Leonard Bernstein, Jule Styne, Richard Radgers, Stephen Sondheim, Kander and Ebb; Fred Astaire, Gertrude Lawrence, Frank Sinatra, Elaine Stritch, and Bette Midler.
Ms. Stone, however, made a point of balancing the old favorites with less familiar songs—songs she related to in an intimate, personal way, often reflective, even sad. This gave her the opportunity to use her dramatic gifts and to give us nuanced and subtle interpretations of songs which, to my mind, show the inner strength of the American musical, which can burrow into psychological moments in a way that just doesn’t fit into opera. She brought out these qualities most marvelously in “Something’s Coming” (Bernstein, West Side Story), Autumn in New York (Vernon Duke, Thumbs Up!), “Shy” (Mary Rodgers, Once Upon a Mattress), “Anyone Can Whistle” (Sondheim. Anyone Can Whistle), even “Garbage” (Jerry Herman, Dear World, based on Giraudoux’s Madwoman of Chaillot). Then, along with “Some People” from Gypsy (Jule Styne, Sondheim, Laurents) and “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Company (Sondheim), there was “The Physician” originally sung by sung by Gertrude Lawrence in Cole Porter’s Nymph Errant, which enjoyed some success in the West End in 1933, but, because the show was either to British or too risqué, never had a Broadway run.
I was grateful that Ms. Stone avoided the clichés of Broadway singing. She always sang on pitch and never indulged in belting. She closed the performance with “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer” from Kander and Ebb’s The Rink, and “Whatever Lola Wants” from Damn Yankees (Alder and Ross). She showed an unerring sense of what was most affecting and interesting in the Broadway vein.
As encores, she offered finely crafted, affecting renditions of “The Rose” (Amanda McBroom) and Sinatra’s beloved classics “Young at Heart” (Johnny Richards, Carolyn Leigh).
Pianist Woody Regan provided responsive and sensitive support. His knowledge of this repertoire was obviously long and deep.
Deborah Stone’s impeccable singing, her sensitivity and fine taste, her sense for movement and psychological space, all made Still Exactly Where I Belong a special experience. Watch out for her next season!