Amy Abler’s hour long one woman piano cabaret bonanza is difficult to evaluate because, despite all its apparent flaws, it still seems to endear itself to its tiny audiences. The audience is introduced to a sequined Abler, a self-attested recovering classical pianist. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen!’ she shouts over-loudly to the assembly of ten, ‘the question of the afternoon! Can a classical musician really play rock and roll?!’ With this she rounds on her poor piano and so begins a savage but enthusiastic hour of Abba covers and jazzed up Mozart.
Her music is without exception fast and loud. Her technique seems flawed for a classically trained pianist (there are few embellishments, no dynamics, and most subtleties are sacrificed for the sake of speed). Still, she manages to play the pieces so damn quickly that one feels sure she could have – would have – played them better if she had wanted to.
She does not, however, seem to want to. The story she tells, interpolated with the piano’s belching, is about her emancipation from the shackles of classical servitude. Discarding a rockstar boyfriend who did not believe in her cool, Abler now travels across the world, asserting her cool to whoever will listen. She does not want to be a musician, she wants to be a diva – and that requires a sass that cannot make concessions for the whimsical desires of an audience member there to hear good piano.
And this is, eventually, the contradiction that her show boils down to. She does not give us Pachelbel’s Canon, but Pachelbel’s Canon Plus, complete with sequences where she plays the piano with different parts of her body. Call it sagacity, call it foolishness, but Amy Abler does not (apart from initial signs of nervousness) seem to care much for her audience’s expectations. She sings her heart out in an entirely unmelodious voice that nevertheless is hoarse in a way that suggests earnestness and commitment. These qualities are consistent with her stories – there is no question of them not being true even though some of them are of questionable interest. It is in her lack of perfection, in her misguided inattention to critical recipients, that she wins her audience. They leave thrilled to have been allowed into the world of such a woman.