Nikki Blonsky’s handlers have done her no favors booking her into what’s simultaneously her New York City and nightclub debut. The teenaged Great Neck ice cream clerk, who was magically transported to Hollywood to star in the 2007 bigscreen version of “Hairspray,” is in desperate need of seasoning.
Blonsky sings three “Hairspray” songs well enough, giving an assured performance and energetically re-creating all the moves. The rest of the evening consists of songs that she likes, performed more or less in the style of her singing idols. Thus, we get Blonsky’s versions of Patsy Cline, Bonnie Raitt and Aretha Franklin. (You know you’re in trouble when she introduces “Don’t Rain on My Parade” as “Linda Eder’s hit.”) These are neither homage nor impression, just a teenager attempting to copy.
Things turn worse when Blonsky delivers a trio of songs she sang in musicals at Great Neck High, her only experience, she tells us, being “Hairspray” and high school musicals. She has no business attempting “So in Love” on the Feinstein’s bandstand; she then goes on to that little slice of Sondheim “By the Sea,” from “Sweeney Todd,” topped by the “Habanera” from “Carmen.” In French, no less.
Haphazardly assembled act is apparently the work of musical director Patti Dunham, who has been Blonsky’s vocal coach since she was 7. Dunham, working from a music stand, sings a few backup vocals and occasionally gives a tempo to the pianist or drummer. Most of the time she stands beside Blonsky wriggling to the music with a dour look, mouthing the words in the tough spots.
Blonsky, for her part, gives her all, breaking through twice with the only gentle songs of the evening — “Dream a Little Dream of Me” (sung a la Mama Cass Elliot) and “I Can Wait,” a ballad cut from the “Hairspray” movie.