Pam Bierly is a multifaceted talent, but I wonder if she isn't trying to demonstrate too many of the facets in "Trapeze," her one-woman show at d.c. space. Some of the 26 numbers she sings in the course of this two-hour evening have to do with the circus and its denizens, hence the overall title. But it's a tenuous theme.
As the Washington-based performer wends her way from Carole Bayer Sager/Peter Allen ballads to John Kander/Fred Ebb show tunes, from a languid "Lazy Afternoon" to a raucous "Inhibition Papa," the thought may occur to you that "Cornucopia" would be a far more accurate title.
Bierly has a sure sense of drama and a gift for telling a story in song that make her as much an actress as a singer. (Pairing Charles Aznavour's and Fred Ebb's "I, in My Chair" with Billy Vera's "Private Clown," she creates a vivid mini-playlet about a circus tragedy.) She's got gusto and, in the lower registers at least, a belter's capabilities. (She may be reaching for "Some People," from "Gypsy," but give her another 10 years.) And she possesses a nice sense of humor that serves her well in, say, a number like Yip Harburg's "The Begat."
She also can be plaintive and hurt, starting with a limpidly lovely rendition of "Poor Butterfly," and then easing into James Taylor's "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight." But despite her apparent range, a nagging impression remains: The more Bierly switches gears, tones and moods, the harder it is to get a bead on what renders (or could render) her unique.
In "Trapeze," which plays Thursday through Saturday, she seems to be trying on various musical clothes to see how they fit. And while some of them suit her well, you can't say that they're hers alone. Right now, her show business flair strikes me as stronger than her musical gifts, and her greatest potential would appear to lie in her extroverted personality. At various junctures of the evening, I found myself reminded of a young Shirley MacLaine or a young Liza Minnelli. Not bad, that. But it will be better when Bierly reminds us of Bierly.
For "Trapeze," she has the support of director Fredric Lee and pianist and arranger Rob Bowman, who heads a three-piece combo. They all turn in high-quality professional work. What Bierly needs from them now is the "special material" that would, indeed, make her special.