Get seated early to see Classically Trained, Practically Broke (Franca Vercelloni’s solo show, directed by Myrna E. Duarte and John David West) and you’ll get an earful of what Franca is subject to on a nightly basis – the caterwauling of half drunk patrons who gather around her piano at the bar she works at and who beg for show tunes - blithely singing in their own key and verbally abusing her at will as if she’s worth nothing.
But she’s not nothing. Franca Vercelloni is Classically Trained – not only a proficient pianist but a soulful and interpretive one as well, one who throws herself (as well as her Self) into her music and lives there; it’s where she celebrates the good times and waits out the bad times. Franca, you see, is so much better than this dingy piano bar with its smelly keys (no telling what’s wedged down in there) and its drunken patrons. Ms. Vercelloni is living just a short distance away from her dream – 88 keys away to be exact, and her talent is both her blessing as well as her curse. Yet she doesn’t give up this thankless job because ultimately - she’s terrific at it.
Watching Ms. Vercelloni’s fingers fly across the keys is like watching FloJo run the 100 meter dash – only with this specific blur of motion comes the most wonderful music – a Bach Fugue, A Beethoven Sonata, a Gershwin Tune.
Between dazzling the audience with brilliantly played songs, Ms. Vercelloni gives her life story in the same carefully crafted notes and meters – and always punctuated by a piano chord. She tells of being a piano teacher to snotty, precocious, over indulged children with equally annoying parents. She reminisces about playing the church organ and sneaking in a few secular songs during communion. Ms. Vercelloni even brings out the ole accordion and plays a catchy song about “Walmart At Midnight”.
A lively tune called “Extra Medium” addresses the specific challenges of being a gal who is considered too large to play the ingenue, but too pretty to be a character actress. Too tall to be petite, but too short to be tall . . . you get the picture. Problem is, changing one aspect of her appearance would cut off particular opportunities and paths in another area. What’s a girl to do?
As Ms. Vercelloni continues to break it down for us the situations get funnier and funnier – “I’m playing Evita, you’re singing Cole Porter” she points out in her rousing singalong “Shut The Fuck Up and Sing With Me!” all delivered with a manic smile but a smile nonetheless. And gosh darn it – we sang along! When told to!
Talent just keeps flowing out of her as she laughingly illustrates the fights she must break up “Do Judy!” . . .”No! Do Sondheim” . . . and then grandly manages to do a mash up worthy of Glee – “The Man That Got Away” to a signature Sondheim score. Of course, eventually the mania builds up, the poking and prodding and little voices and booming voices and off-key voices all manage to create a terrible storm that brings poor Ms. Vercelloni to “The Last Midnight“ . . .
And in that moment without music . . . what a terrible void.
Soon enough, though, Ms. Vercelloni finds her happy place and her anthemic “Living It Day By Day” (“I can’t be mad because I didn’t take an express route . . .”) melds into a heartfelt - and heart melting – “A Song For You“.
Part concert, part comedy act, part real life, part hyper real, Ms. Vercelloni finds the truth and shares it with those who listen along with her in the dark . . .”we’re alone now, and I’m singing this song for you . . .“
It’s what she does – and she does it beautifully.