Jeannette Bayardelle is following in Ms. Goldberg’s shoes. In her new one-woman show, Shida, Ms. Bayardelle plays a panoply of characters reminiscent of Ms. Goldberg’s one woman show. Not only does Bayardelle play multiple roles, but like Goldberg, she wrote them all. She also wrote the lyrics and the music. That’s a tall order for any single human being. Hard to fault her if she falls short in a couple of places but held her head high in others. Coincidentally, Bayardelle played Celie in the Whoopi Goldberg produced musical, The Color Purple.
In Shida, now playing at the Ars Nova as part of their Summer Fling, Bayardelle is a little girl, the daughter of a single mother. She is a cyclone as she tears her way through this show. Not only does she play Shida, she plays Shida’s mother, her beloved teacher, Mrs. Small, her best friend Jackie and other sundry characters. She is perhaps at her most vulnerable as the abused and broken Shida. Shida loves writing and is a straight-A student. As a young woman she makes some bad decisions and suffers the consequences. The piece itself seems patterned after a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie - young girl with great potential goes bad.
Bayardelle can be explosive as Shida. We completely buy her performance of the vulnerable, broken young woman. It’s a shame that Bayardelle’s generation – raised on “American Idol” – think that screaming and belting the highest note in their range is acting the song. Bayardelle’s music has her singing simple ballads with minimal vocal range or demands. Next it requires her to wail at the top of her range a la “American Idol.” She is just as definite, perhaps even more so, when she is singing softly.
This is a very big performance, in a very small theatre with a body mic that picks up every breath and plosive from this one-woman dynamo. While she mostly exhibits a lovely singing voice, when she starts to belt it can be pitchy. It’s hard to sing on pitch when you are vocally pushing so hard. As for the music itself, it is fairly simple and not particularly wide, deep or memorable.
Director, Andy Sandberg, has done a superb job of guiding Bayardelle through this event-filled and melodramatic story. He has choreographed Bayardelle’s transition from character to character such that each is clearly delineated and discernable. She handles the changes smoothly and with complete conviction. Unfortunately, her young Shida is intensely over eager and at times, nails-on-a-chalk-board grating.
Sandberg is aided by lighting designer, Grant Yeager. Yeager has managed to create many beautiful looks and moods with his lighting. This is particularly important in small venue where space for scenery is limited.
Set designer, Charlie Corcoran has given Sandberg a fire escape down-right extending to the edge of the stage. The set has a wire-metal fence upstage between the actress and the four-piece band. There is a chair and an area stage-left where she can place and retrieve small hand props. Simple, but workable.
Bayardelle’s tale of Shida weaves a cohesive story that’s easy to follow, albeit predictable. I am sure we will be seeing much more from this promising actress. She has a great set of pipes, but she is much more appealing when she is pianissimo.
Shida is playing at Ars Nova, 511 West 54th St. through August 28, 2013.