nytheatre.com review by Rachel Grundy
August 21, 2011
Daja Vu is a French cabaret show like no other. Mainly because there’s not that much French cabaret in it, but don’t worry—that’s deliberate. What writer and performer Aja Nisenson has created is a funny, awkward, engaging show that showcases both her considerable singing talent and her comedic skills.
The performance begins relatively conventionally, with Daja Vu (the chanteuse played by Nisenson) singing a classic cabaret song. However, from the start there seems to be something slightly wrong with the performance—she is nervous or distracted, and it quickly devolves into a messy and confused jumble as Daja reveals that she is falling in love with us, the audience, and cannot perform her cabaret full of French love songs. It’s just too painful when we don’t love her back with the same intensity.
Decked out in the most fantastic pair of sparkling heels, corset and flowing sheer skirt, she looks every inch the part and certainly Nisenson has the singing chops to pull off the many styles of song that appear in the show. She can swing from traditional cabaret to jazz to opera to pop and rock songs in a breath, while giving a comedy performance that is brilliantly awkward and funny. She takes a call from her mother, who tries to give her advice about this new relationship; she walks over to the bar of the Bowery Poetry Club and pours herself a wine glass of vodka; she sings an entire song while stuffing her mouth full of an entire packet of chewing gum (no mean feat).
By the final third, she’s stripped down to her underwear and bare feet, drawing us in with a gorgeous performance of a Bonnie Raitt song about love and loss, before transforming into a mime, complete with blue striped shirt, beret and white painted face, miming to "La Vie en Rose" to hilarious effect. But what Nisenson does so brilliantly is pull the rug out from under us—one minute making us roar with laughter, in the next breath performing a song that will break your heart. She ends by singing the famous Piaf tune in French and English, devastatingly poignant in her sadness. Then she breaks up with us before the final note.
This show was not at all what I was expecting—it was so much more. Nisenson deserves much credit (along with director Michael Aman and musical director David Gaines, who does a great turn as the straight man accompanist) for subverting the conventions of cabaret yet still, somehow, creating a great cabaret show.