Sandra Bernhard is not a great singer. By definition, she’s not really a great “stand-up comic” either. But what she offers when she takes the stage with a full band behind her, interweaving live musical numbers with her signature snarky ramblings is beyond great. It’s magic. It’s meta. It’s a mind-fuck. Weird, wry, ironic, and at times all over the place, the opening night of “Sandrology” at REDCAT Wednesday night offered plenty of “huh?” moments, during her crooning interludes and her spoken word segments, both of which combined pop culture commentary, name-drop sodden anecdotes, and Bernhard’s biting, bitch-slap delivery. Even when it didn’t work, it werked.
Bernhard clearly loves to sing and at times, she’s actually pretty impressive on the mic, hitting high notes and low ones too, injecting sass and vocal gusto into classics such as Neil Sedaka’s “Laughter In The Rain” and “Before The Parade Passes By” from Hello Dolly. A drawn-out, melo-dramatic take on Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory” (in which she repeats only the chorus over and over and over) became ridiculous and ultimately irritating by about the 50th repetition, but you got the feeling that was the point. And then there was her closing number, a completely earnest-seeming take on the schmaltzy REO Speedwagon classic, “Cant Fight This Feeling” that became a surprise duet when none other than REO’s singer Kevin Cronin came out to join her about half way through. The harmonies were off, but the surrealness of the scene was entertaining nonetheless. (Apparently, Bernhard wants to have surprise guests join her at REDCAT regularly: on her Twitter Page, she tweeted to Uh Huh Her’s Leisha Hailey about joining on stage soon).
Music always plays a huge role in Bernhard’s material. Of course, there were jabs and references to her frenemy Madonna (“Don’t trust anyone who goes to the Kabbalah Center,”… “Why do fingerless lace gloves make a comeback every five years?”), and an intriguing chunk of the show was spent talking about her crush on Bruce Springsteen and an encounter she had with him at his recent concert. The 56-year-old (who looks great) has been an out lesbian for decades and gabbed about her girlfriend a lot, but she directed the crowd not to “pigeonhole” her preferences. Bits about Glee and America’s Next Top Model felt too “playing to the crowd,” while other supercilious musings were filled with references even the gay-est pop culture junkie might not grasp. We felt very “insider” (a word she uses often) when we did.
“It’s a pastiche of madness!” Bernhard declared, describing a Cindy Crawford beauty informercial… but she could have been talking about her own work. Few performers mesh words and thoughts in such crazy, excessive, and unexpected ways and even fewer have the charisma to hold so many skewering non-sequiturs all together. When Bernhard offered a bizarre “mash-up,” for her encore — Apollonia 6’s “Sex Shooter,” with Aerosmith’s “Jaime’s Got A Gun,” and Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” – it made perfect sense, precisely because it made no sense at all. In the words of Gaga, hammered home earlier, everyone at REDCAT was “hanging on the moment,” with Sandra, and even when we didn’t “get it,” it was glorious.
“Laughter in the Rain” by Neil Sedaka.
“4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” by Bruce Springsteen,
“The Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga.
“Before the Parade Passes By” from Hello Dolly!
“Can’t Fight This Feeling” by REO Speedwagon
“Sex Shooter” Apollonia 6 with “Jaime’s Got A Gun by Aerosmith with “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People.
Photos above by Steve Gunther for REDCAT.
Sandrology runs through June 10. http://www.redcat.org/