How does a Broadway diva make the perilous passage between the musical stage and the intimate environment of cabaret? If she's smart, with great caution. And Anne Runolfsson, who has appeared prominently in "The Secret Garden," "Les Miserables" and "Aspects of Love," is a savvy and thoughtful performer who--up to a point--understands the differences between the two venues.
In the opening set Tuesday of a five-night run at the Hollywood Roosevelt Cinegrill, Runolfsson put together a program carefully tailored to showcase her bell-toned soprano. Singing songs that ranged from Billy Joel and Paul Simon to Hoagy Carmichael and Burt Bacharach, she moved confidently through her material, leavening the tunes with a stream of personal anecdotes liberally sprinkled with her quick, spontaneous wit.
Her performance worked as well as it did because Runolfsson, a natural ingenue, kept her cabaret characterizations close to her fundamental theatrical persona. Her generally sunny demeanor and high, lilting head tones, applied to songs such as "Fare Thee Well My Own True Love," "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "What a Wonderful World," made for an attractive combination. In her softer moments, in fact, Runolfsson's singing was reminiscent of the sweet simplicity of early Joan Baez.
Despite its pleasing moments, however, Runolfsson's presentation had its problems--or, perhaps more accurately, its limitations. Her rendering of "I Get Along Without You Very Well," for example, barely touched the poignant duality of Carmichael's lyrics. And in too many other instances, she seemed willing--even eager--to set aside the dramatic thread of a song in favor of belting, sometimes shrill, high-note climaxes.
Cabaret though it may have been, from Runolfsson's perspective, it nonetheless was squeaky-clean cabaret, a version that almost never ventured into the dark, emotional sub-currents and metaphoric imagery typically associated with what has been described as the "intimate musical art." Call it an entertaining evening of cabaret light.
Anne Runolfsson at the Cinegrill in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Through Saturday at 8 p.m. (213) 466-7000.