According to Deborah Pearl, the multitalented singer-composer appearing in a one-woman show, the titular chick singers are a desperate, despairing group, derailed by drugs and drink, crushed by age and destroyed by ambition. Pearl’s sketches of eight female entertainers are drawn with accuracy and scrupulous detail. The mistake is representing these portraits as the total picture of a chick singer’s life without even hinting at the joy and sense of accomplishment women performers can also feel.
Pearl’s stable of sad songbirds includes a French waitress who dreams of success in the U.S., a Broadway belter, a country singer, an opera diva, a jazz vocalist, a punk rocker and a 96-year-old blues legend.
Some are more effective than others. Her Broadway singer, Carol Hart, is a strikingly recognizable creation, the kind of Ethel Merman clone that directors dread seeing at auditions. As the mentally unstable Miriam Wells, Pearl captures the arch pretensions and self-absorption of an opera diva. Country singer Frankie Olin is a sharp, satirical version of old-fashioned Nashville thrushes who know every lick and yodel but lack genuine emotion.
Portraying elderly performer Mabel Jamison, Pearl has a monologue that catches the bittersweet flavor of a woman reviewing her centurylong love of the blues.
Tory Hart, the punk rocker who tells us, “I get paid a fortune to sing out of tune,” would have scored more decisively if her musical sequence was more extended and her alcoholic throwing-my-life-away speech was trimmed.
Particularly, the French chanteuse doesn’t feel as authentic as Pearl’s other characters nor as representative of a typical chick singer’s career.
Musically, Pearl is a powerhouse. She manages to spoof “Rose’s Turn” from “Gypsy” and still deliver it with maximum impact, and her roof-shattering rendition of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going,” from “Dreamgirls,” becomes a shattering protest against rejection. In addition, Pearl reveals a stunning aptitude for jazz on “Give Me the Simple Life.”
Arrangements by David Kole, Steve Orich and Andrew Gold, and piano by James Harbert and Lou Forestieri, offer her beautiful backup.
Pearl’s “Chick Singers” also nails certain truths about singers down on their luck when she calls herself “the best Dolly the Kansas City Light Opera has ever known,” and again when the untalented punk rocker cries out against her neglectful mother, “Look who made it, ma!” Throughout the show, there are bleakly honest observations that could only have emerged from a showbiz insider who has suffered major emotional bumps and bruises along the way.
Oddly enough, “Chick Singers” is most exciting when Pearl sheds her characters and comes on as herself. She belts out a joyous version of “Never Never Land” and a jubilant encore with the feel-good favorite “Sing.” These moments, lighter and less melodramatic than much of the show, highlight the fact that “Chick Singers,” despite moments of brilliance, needs added humor and a more positive view of the women it profiles.