Karen Fineman, the former Beverly Hills High schoolgirl who made an auspicious debut as Cosette in the 1988 West Coast premiere of “Les Miz,” has evolved into an elegant solo artist who instills every song with a sumptuous blend of passion, humor, power and finesse. Aided by the economical, understated guidance of director Clifford Bell, Fineman’s 15-number act is woven together with light-hearted autobiographical patter that only occasionally crosses over into self indulgence. Fineman’s musical journey is enhanced greatly by the instrumental support of the four-piece ensemble led by musical director-pianist Michael Orland.
Fineman immediately establishes her vocal fluidity and range, opening with a soaring medley of “Something’s Coming” (Bernstein/Sondheim) and “I Can See It” (Jones/Schmidt). The singer-actress shifts into a pop persona, offering vibrant, full-throated renditions of Lindy Robbins’ country-tinged “Having the Time of Your Life” and a flat-out sultry outing on “Fever,” featuring the adroit Shelly Mann-esque hand percussion work of drummer Mark Z. Stevens.
As she guides the audience through her early years as a child of Rodeo Drive and beyond, Fineman displays a keen wit and adroit comic timing, crooning over her teen-age infatuation with Starbuck’s “Taylor,” the full-maned “latte boy who brings me java, he brings me joy.” Later, she reveals how her taste in men has matured in “He’s Bald,” a bolero-rhythmed ode to follicle-deprived older men. Her wordy reminiscence about being asked to be a Preparation H spokeswoman creates unnecessary overkill as a set up for the seldom heard Cy Coleman/Dorothy Fields ballad, “Something Better Than This.”
The highlights are Fineman’s musical excerpts from “Les Miz,” “City of Angels” (in which she performed on Broadway) and “Promises, Promises,” her recent Reprise Series co-starring effort opposite Jason Alexander. Explaining that she now has the chance to sing the songs she didn’t get to do in these shows, Fineman performs an emotion-rich “I Dreamed a Dream” and assumes her best torch song persona, belting out “With Every Breath I Take,” while perched seductively on Orland’s piano.