“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned,” wrote William Congreve, the 17th century English playwright and poet. He would have had quite the drinking match with Molly Pope, the deep-voiced downtown cabaret performer currently in residence at The Duplex with monthly performances through October.
Pope’s show is a jarring and compelling juxtaposition of old school numbers from the American songbook, musical theater gems, and wildly affected deliveries of popular songs such as Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse.”
Loosely tying it all together is Pope’s defeatist quest for love in the 21st century as she struggles to balance technology with her vivacious temperament. At the July performance she was also lamenting the loss of a recent relationship and it was unclear if her exposition was life imitating art or an episodic fictional riff that only regular Pope-goers would recognize.
There is no denying Pope’s vocal magnetism. In an interview earlier this year with The New York Times, Pope described her voice as “Huge… I’m a belter but an old-fashioned belter. I’m in many ways a female baritone.”
She uses those rattlling pipes to her advantage, along with a Vitamix’s worth of mannerisms from the greats including Judy Garland, Bette Midler, Ethel Merman and more. At first glance it may appear like imitation, but after an evening with Pope it’s clear that she is redefining a performance style for a new generation.
Pope has been pounding the pavement for more than 14 years, with credits ranging from cabaret performances at Joe’s Pub and Ars Nova to Off Broadway gigs at Atlantic Theatre Company and LaMama. Her resilience is evident, but so is the fact that she’s ready for strong directorial influence.
It’s hard not to compare Pope to downtown’s other bawdy favorite, Bridget Everett. While their styles are quite different, each pushes onstage boundaries. But while Everett—with her voluptuous breasts and hit song, “Titties”—dominates the stage, it feels as though Pope is still grappling to define her own aesthetic. Everett was also blessed to collaborate with hit-makers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman as part of the Joe’s Pub 2013 New York Voices series, which helped the artist further define her signature style.
Molly Pope is, no doubt, a theatrical force to be reckoned with. If she’s able to strip away the unfocused bantering and tighten up the transitions between songs, her status is likely to shift from pending to bonafide downtown star.
Molly Pope Likes Your Status
61 Christopher Street, NYC
August 14, September 11, October 9
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @roodeloo.