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Theater review: Once technical problems fade, Mendis shines in Streisand tribute

There were only eight audience members before Melody Mendis took the stage as Barbra Streisand in "With Love from Barbra" at Fitger's Spirit of the North Theater on Friday night. While we waited, one patron said, "I can't judge until I hear her v...

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Melody Mendis as Barbra Streisand (Photo courtesy of Mendis)

 

 

There were only eight audience members before Melody Mendis took the stage as Barbra Streisand in "With Love from Barbra" at Fitger's Spirit of the North Theater on Friday night.

While we waited, one patron said, "I can't judge until I hear her voice."

Unfortunately, for most of the opening act, sound problems made it really difficult to hear how well Mendis was singing. Only on the high notes were we getting glimpses, and the low register stuff was getting lost, especially the dialogue between songs.

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As for the lights, early on, the only way they would go from one light cue to the next was to go totally black in between. I was thinking maybe it would be better if Mendis turned off her microphone, accompanist Sarah Burk turned down her keyboard several notches, and we all moved down in front to be able to really hear her sing.

Mendis was certainly playing to what little audience she had, singing to each and every one of us in turn. When two more patrons showed up, she greeted them warmly.

Then, song by song, the sound started to improve markedly. By the time Mendis got to "Love is a Bore" and "How Do You Keep the Music Playing," we could finally hear her clearly.

And what we heard sure sounded a lot like Streisand.

Her voice is not as brassy as Streisand's but on the big power notes, the quality is certainly there, and Mendis is really close on the distinctive vibrato. The only telling disparity is on those gossamer soft notes of Streisand's that fade away into the ether, but those only popped up two or three times in the evening.

Mendis does not overplay the Brooklyn accent or overuse Streisand's mannerisms, thereby avoiding the pitfalls of caricature, even in the two speed singing/talking songs.

More importantly, I noticed some simple but significant changes to several songs, such as the slightly faster tempo on "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," that distanced the singing from imitating the original recording. This is a really smart move.

"With Love from Barbra" is one of four Streisand shows put together by Mendis and her co-writer/director Keith Russell, the others being devoted to Christmas, movies, and a by-the-decades show with a dress for every decade. So this one was clearly appropriate for the post-Valentine's Day weekend.

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As the second act settled into an enjoyable groove with "Love With All the Trimmings" and "Woman in Love," I was thinking the only concert element we were really missing was the audience bursting into applause when they recognized the opening notes of a song.

Then the audience did just that, and we had the most memorable moment of the evening. In the home stretch, couples were cuddling during "Evergreen" and applauding before the song was over.

"It might be karaoke if not for all of you," Mendis told us before her "People" finale.

Wrong. Karaoke is rarely this good.

If you go

What: Rubber Chicken Theater presents "Melody Mendis: With Love from Barbra"

Where: Spirit of the North Theater on the third floor of the Fitger's Complex

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 16) and 2 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 17)

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Tickets: $25 adults, $20 students and seniors.

Online: Visit rubberchickentheater.com for more information.

Related Topics: MUSICTHEATER
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