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Kim Maresca: It’s My Party and I’ll Belt if I Want to
at Feinstein’s/54 Below


By Ron Cohen


It was a mix of birthday party, benefit, cousins-club love fest and – most of all – sterling cabaret performance, when Kim Maresca took to the stage for a one-night stand at Feinsteins’s/54 Below.


Maresca has just wound up a run of some 14 months Off-Broadway in Ruthless! The Musical, the ruthlessly irreverent mashup by Joel Paley and Marvin Laird of such works as The Bad Seed, Gypsy, All About Eve and just about every other mother-daughter weepie or backstage melodrama ever written or yet to be written. Maresca brought both great comic timing and surprising vocal depth to the role of Judy Denmark, the hapless mom of prepubescent Tina, a Broadway wannabe quadruple-threat (singer, dancer, actress and murderess).


The evening at 54 Below was indeed Maresca’s birthday; at one point the audience sang “Happy Birthday” to her. It was presented as a benefit for Broadway Dreams, under the aegis of Evan Saks, a producer of Ruthless! She was obviously performing before an audience studded with family and friends, but she carried things off with an admirable amount of poise and unpretentious professionalism. She lamented with humor her state of being single, singing “You Made Me Love You” to a portrait of the comic-strip Superman; reminisced lovingly about her late grandmother Vera, moving into a deeply heartfelt “Since You Stayed Here” (from Brownstone by Josh Rubens and Peter Larson), and gave voice to her own dreams of Broadway stardom with a medley incorporating snatches of big wailers and anthems from more than a half-dozen Main Stem hits, from Evita to Spamalot. The medley included a quick sendup of the misery depicted in “Memory” from Cats, first sung on Broadway by Betty Buckley. It was a notable selection since Buckley had just been on stage with Maresca as the evening’s guest star; the two carried off a buoyant duet of Stephen Schwartz’s “Corner of the Sky’” (from Pippin), In an example of Maresca’s winning personality, her take-off on “Memory” gently kidded the song but was done without a trace of malice or envy, only admiration, for Buckley.


The main strength of the evening was in Maresca’s exceptional vocalizing, whether she was belting away as in her opener “Life of the Party” (from Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party); sprinting through the patter complexities of “Crossword Puzzle” (from Richard Maltby, Jr., and David Shire’s Starting Here Starting Now), or bringing a shimmering opera-like beauty to “Unexpected Song” (from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Song and Dance).


Throughout the show, a seven-piece orchestra, with lush, string-heavy orchestrations and arrangements by Larry Moore and Joshua Clayton, further elevated the evening’s musicality. Jon Balcourt was the music director.


Climaxing the program was a double knock-out of warhorses associated with two of showbiz’s greatest divas, Patti LuPone and Barbra Streisand: “Meadowlark” (from Stephen Schwartz’s The Baker’s Wife) and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (from Jule Styne and Bob Merrill’s Funny Girl.)  Maresca made them her own with explosive builds that fairly threatened to rip through the ceiling of 54 Below and make it onto to the sidewalk of 54th Street above.


As an encore, Maresca offered a quietly yearning rendition of “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” (from Disney’s Cinderella). Should Maresca’s Broadway dreams come true, Broadway would only be richer for it.


Kim Maresca appeared on September 21 at Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 West 54th Street,