Five performers run through three-dozen standards by George and Ira Gershwin in the Off the Circle Company's latest cabaret revue, "By George, By Ira, By Gershwin." But the one you'll remember, if you drop in at d.c. space, where this congenial little show plays through June 19, is Debra Tidwell.
I don't know where musical comedy producers scout for talent these days, but if any of them is looking for a young black woman with a delivery Theater that combines the brass of Ethel Merman, the sexy articulation of Lena Horne and the panache of Nell Carter, here she is. In such varied numbers as "The Man I Love," "The Great American Folk Song," "I Got Rhythm" and that lyrical duet from "Porgy and Bess," "Bess, You Is My Woman," Tidwell goes right to the heart of matters, swiftly and succinctly. She could probably sing down the Lord's trumpets if called upon, but her clarion voice also carries hints of huskiness that mark her as an earthly--and earthy--creature.
The other four performers--Wayne Anderson, Gregory Ford, Anne Kanengeiser and Donal Leace--are not without gifts of their own. But Tidwell easily outclasses them in the course of this 90-minute outing, and they frequently give the impression they are straining to catch up. Leace survives with a contemporary, off-the-cuff style that meshes well with such numbers as "Somebody Loves Me," "S'Wonderful" and "But Not For Me," and has the further distinction of being in total contrast to Tidwell's powerhouse ways. Kanengeiser acquits herself with a direct and simple rendition of "Our Love Is Here to Stay." But Anderson and Ford are pushing so hard they promptly undo the effects of their manifest labors.
Still, the Gershwin songs are enduring. And Tidwell, it would appear, has all the trumps she needs to play the bigtime.
BY GEORGE, BY IRA, BY GERSHWIN! Songs by Ira and George Gershwin. Directed by Frederic Lee; musical direction, Rob Bowman. With Wayne Anderson, Gregory Ford, Anne Kanengeiser, Debra Tidwell, Donal Leace. At d.c. space through June 19.