JEANNA de WAAL Lights Up 54 Below — Review
Jeanna de Waal’s debut cabaret show, performed Monday evening at Feinstein’s/54 Below, perfectly captured the spirit of a performer excited for the future and “a princess moving on'' after the hasty closing of Diana. Packed with superfans and sheep sweaters, the venue was filled with giddy looks between tables and a sense of wonder for what was about to unfold. Each song was met with a rumbling of whispers ringing out before lyrics could even begin, as many opted to quickly pull out their phones, set to record and share the drama of it all. de Waal had been at the center of the Diana universe for years, through the San Diego production, two rounds of Broadway previews, a Netflix recording under severe COVID precautions, and a run that would ultimately play 34 performances before closing on December 19, 2021. Years in the making, de Waal’s performance as the people’s princess turned heads while her solo show continued to win hearts.
Performing numbers from the recently closed musical as well as selections from Hadestown, Funny Girl, and Company, de Waal captivated a willing audience with a short-but-sweet compilation. Akin to the “Underestimated” Princess of Wales, de Waal’s secret weapon continues to be her unassuming persona. The evening would be filled with pristine vocals and charming comedic anecdotes, but the major draw remains de Waal’s inviting personality. Her energy greets every audience member as though they are an old friend, allowing each of her admirers to get comfortable before being reminded of her sheer vocal power.
Opening with a rendition of “Roxie” from Chicago (with some new Diana-related lyrics), de Waal led with her humor, eager to joke that she’s available for work- starting as early as tomorrow. She was accompanied by former cast members Nathan Lucrezio and Anthony Murphy for selections of previously cut dialogue and occasional back up vocals. Alongside Music Director Haley Bennett and band member Charlie Savage, the 45 minute program delighted a captive audience in-person and (simultaneously streamed) online.
Many of de Waal’s Diana numbers, including “Underestimated” and “If,” excelled in the stripped-down format. While the musical brought along costumes, lights, and choreography, de Waal’s performance last night truly showed off her range and the sensitivities of each song. She soared through a gripping rendition of “As I Love You,” which sounded better than ever, reminding all the “DiFanas” what brought them to the show to begin with (that one line about marrying a Scorpio).
A dramatic rendition of “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” complete with a bathrobe, neon light sequence, and some flashlight choreography from Lucrezio and Murphy struck as a highlight of the evening. Introducing the Céline Dion song, de Waal noted that she had used it for a Diana audition during her years-long journey with the musical. Not one to balk, she delivered a performance of the song that would give Jeremy Jordan’s viral version on the same stage a run for his money.
To close the program, de Waal continued to dazzle with a final rendition of “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” one that conjured up thoughts of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Moulin Rouge!, Smash, or even a potential stage adaptation of Burlesque (2010). While Diana may have closed, it’s clear that de Waal will be sticking around, a performer with plenty of potential and a lot of heart.
For more information on 54 Below, visit here.