A Lucky, Love-ly Friday the 13th with Gabi Epstein

If you have been to the Toronto Centre for the Arts lately you will know that a new star was added to the Quinn Vanantwerp, Jeremy Kushnier, Michael Lomenda and Jeff Madden constellation- at least as far as the advertising is concerned. The lobby of the theatre was absolutely peppered with posters for the one-night-only Friday the 13th Studio theatre show: Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: An Evening of Seriously Cynical Songs and Sad but True Horror Stories for Anyone who has Followed the Rocky Road to Love starring the vivacious Miss Gabi Epstein. I can’t help but think that this is a preview of the great things to come from this young performer.
A graduate of McGill’s Voice program, Epstein has been performing cabarets around Toronto for the past three years. She made her mark on the musical theatre community as one of the stars of Edges, which she co-produced (with Sara Farb) in 2007, and which was remounted by Acting Upstage Theatre in 2008. The run was an unbelievable success and was extended a month beyond its original closing date.
The Friday the 13th evening was produced by Studio 5040, whose mandate is to showcase local professional musical theatre performers in an “intimate cabaret-style” venue. It was kick-started with songs sung by Patrick Brown. His set was quite charming with a mixture of musical theatre and blues. He showed especially good comic timing during his rendition of Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich’s “The Morning After” (Leave).
Epstein then burst onto the scene with a jazzy performance of “Love You I Do” from Dreamgirls that suited her big, beautiful voice perfectly. I think it’s rare to see a twenty-three-year-old who exudes such charisma and a strong sense of herself as effortlessly as Epstein does.
She revealed that she hadn’t picked the title of the show, and that since she hadn’t experienced enough along the “rocky road to love” to be too cynical, she was going to take the cabaret in her own creative direction. And thus, she launched into a hilarious exploration of her love/hate relationship with food, and with her career, before tackling the concepts of romantic relationships. Epstein has perfect comic timing for songs like “My Simple Christmas Wish” (Rich, Famous and Powerful) and such beauty and sweetness for a song like Canadian composer Zachary Florence’s “Venice in the Rain.” She told a particularly funny story about going on a blind date with a fellow she would call Joe Schmo… or Joe Schmostein, since he was Jewish, and then launched into an amazingly hysterical rendition of “Blind Date” from Funny Lady for which she adopted a pitch-perfect Yiddish accent. In an earlier number, Epstein jokingly sang, “Barbra Streisand has it all, I can do what she can do!”… I think she may be right.
An Evening of Seriously Cynical Songs on the Friday the 13th before Valentines Day starring a musical theatre performer has the potential to be a journey through the greatest over-sung hit love themed songs of the theatre, but Gabi Epstein steered clear of anything clichéd and found the slightly more quirky or obscure music that resonated with her. I especially loved two of her last songs “In a Very Unusual Way” from Nine, and “Cry Me A River,” which she infused with heart and honesty, and her voice soared and blanketed the entire room in its beauty. She followed up with two marathons, a love-song medley and the super-powerhouse “I Am Changing” which can only be characterized as “impressive.”
I think it’s apt that the last words Epstein belted out were, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now.” Indeed, this girl is on a roll.
You should be sure to check out Gabi Epstein’s next show Who Knew They Were Siblings?, in which she performs with her extremely talented brother Jake Epstein, last seen onstage in Toronto in Cinderella: the Sillylicious Family Musical. It is a one-night-only show produced as part of Acting Upstage’s “Dark Night” Cabaret Series. February 23rd, 2009- 8:00pm at the Berekley Street Theatre Downstairs (26 Berkeley Street). Tickets are $15.00 and can be booked by calling 416 368-3110 or visiting www.actingupstage.com. It’s sure to be all the fun of Donny and Marie- only Jewish!

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