As Bufford wended her way through the set, turning from silly to sassy to sultry to soulful on a dime, and taking a rapt audience along with her, my cerebral search engine was trying to determine if a comparison could be made between this engaging singer and celebrated performers of the past. I thought about how another Carol--Burnett--and her BFF Julie Andrews (who Bufford has impersonated in revues) would stage those delightfully entertaining TV specials and the mini-epiphany struck. Carol J. Bufford is a musical comedy hybrid of Carol Burnett (without the extreme wackiness) and Julie Andrews (with more of a vocal edge). She's even got the Andrews Thoroughly Modern Millie bobbed hair.
Bufford maintained the passionate pace in second half of the set, as she continued with a mix of songs filled with humor and pathos. She made "Say That We're Sweethearts Again," a song about being poisoned, disfigured and brutalized, sound like a cheery ode to not giving up on a relationship. As she sang the opening lines of the classic Johnny Mercer song "I wanna be around to pick up the pieces when somebody breaks your heart," a glass fell to the Met Room floor and Bufford chuckled and quipped "That was some timing" without missing a beat. She was at her Randy Newman best on the quirky "Suzanne," about a guy's obsession with a woman he only knows by a number found in a telephone booth (remember those days, guys?), and offered up the achingly tender "A Cottage for Sale" with Garland-like poignancy.
All of that would be more than enough to stamp Body & Soul as an early favorite for a 2013 "Cabaret Show of the Year" Award (hey, it's never too early to drop hints), but there was one bring-the-house-down moment left and it was on Arthur Hamilton's classic "Cry Me A River." Bufford's soaring, heartaching, but not overly dramatic rendition combined fragile vulnerability with resilient strength. If that wasn't enough to make the seduction complete, Bufford's encore was a stirring take on Edith Piaf's classic "Non, Je New Regrette Rien," and like Kevin Costner did to a Piaf-loving Susan Sarandon in the film Bull Durham, I wanted to storm the stage and start painting Bufford's toenails.
I guess for now I'll just have to settle for bowing at her feet.
Carole J. Bufford continues her run of Body & Soul at the Metropolitan Room on Jan. 23 (9:30pm), Feb. 6 and 13 (7pm), Feb. 20 (9:30pm), and Feb. 27 (7pm). The Metropolitan Room is at 34 West 22nd Street. For reservations call: 212-206-0440.
Photos by Russ Weatherford