Classically Trained, Practically Broke
nytheatre.com review by Judith Jarosz
August 14, 2010
How does a classical pianist with a conservatory education find herself hammering out show tunes in a piano bar? We find out in the upbeat piece Classically Trained, Practically Broke. Franca Vercelloni performs this solo show, which she wrote in collaboration with Myrna E. Duarte and John David West (Duarte and West also directed the show). Vercelloni is a likeable cherubic spitfire of an entertainer with many talents who can play Bach on the piano beautifully one moment, then belt out a show tune while playing accordion the next. All this while explaining in a lively narration how she got where she is today. Vercelloni introduces us to some amusing characters, including her offbeat family with the crazy aunt who predicts that her niece will play in a piano bar some day, and the strict piano teacher who despite a stern work ethic believes in his pupil and turns out to be a substitute father figure. Vercelloni takes us through piano competitions, plus size modeling shoots, and of course, the dreaded piano bar gigs. Along the way we are treated to some original songs as well as some twists on standards.
"There's Gotta be Something Better Than This" (music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields, with additional lyrics by Vercelloni) pretty much sets up the discontent of the pitfalls of working at piano bars. We continue on this theme with songs by Vercelloni including "I'm Stuck" which is aptly titled, "They've Got Personality" which is about teaching piano to rich brats, and "Wal-Mart at Midnight" an ode to the only fun place to hang out in her home town. "Extra Medium" deals with the size dilemma of a plus size model who is not quite plus enough, and my personal favorite "Shut the F*** Up and Sing with Me" is a hilarious love song to rude audiences everywhere in which we sang along!
Along the way Vercelloni also sprinkles in positive piano bar experiences like seeing friends turn up unexpectedly after many years, and having the legendary Liza Minnelli attend one night with full gay boy entourage! All of this works mostly because of Vercelloni's sparkling talent and personality. You root for her, you wanna have a beer with her, and you definitely will try to be more supportive of the artist behind the instrument next time you are at a piano bar!
Duarte and West direct a smooth show, with Vercelloni fully utilizing the simple set which consists of a grand piano adorned with props. The lighting and sound by David Bishop make the most of the equipment available (love the disco ball effect). The show ends on a contemplative note with "A Song for You" (music and lyrics by Leon Russell), which is a sweet song of appreciation, but I can't help wishing that the show had a big splashy vivacious number at the end. Because in this show, as in life, Vercelloni deserves an upbeat ending!