Playing a woman trapped by the emotional baggage of her past and burdened with caring for her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother in The Transport Group’s production of The Memory Show at The Duke Theater, Leslie Kritzer is, as always, fantastic. It begs the question — why is this woman not a bigger star?
I first saw Kritzer almost 13 years ago in a revival of Godspell at The Theater at St. Peter’s Church. (The production, incidentally, also featured future Broadway performers Barrett Foa, Shoshanah Bean and Chad Kimball). Kritzer was a fireplug, bursting with energy and showing off powerhouse pipes. She’s since shown off both her humor and her vocals on Broadway in Hairspray, Sondheim on Sondheim, Elf, Legally Blonde and A Catered Affair, and Off-Broadway in Rooms and The Great American Trailer Park Musical, for which she received a Drama Desk Award nomination.
While each of those performances has earned her a devoted following amongst musical theater fans, it was her acclaimed appearance as Fanny Bryce in a revival of Funny Girl at The Papermill Playhouse and her solo concert Leslie Kritzer Is Patti LuPone at Les Mouches at Joes Pub that got her closest to true stardom. I regrettably didn’t see her Fanny, but I did see her channel La Lupone, and I can say her recreation of the diva’s legendary nightclub act was easily one of the most fun and vocally exciting cabaret evenings I’ve witnessed in my time in New York. Kritzer was absolutely sensational, and seemed destined for more great things.
Kritzer fully and believably inhabits her role (referred to simply as “Daughter”) in The Memory Show, and navigates the tricky score (with music by Zach Redler and lyrics by Sara Cooper) beautifully, getting to show off a quieter side than she has usually displayed onstage. Opposite two-time Tony Award nominee Catherine Cox, who has the much showier role of “Mother,” she gives a fully realized performance, finding loads of nuance and humor in this suffocated, sad young woman. The show is far from perfect — I mostly agree with Ben Brantley in his New York Times review that the piece is moving but ultimately overwhelmed by its good intentions and unlikable characters — but Kritzer is as compelling as ever.
And yet. I long to see Kritzer find a role that allows her to soar in a big, flashy way — to fire on all cylinders in a way she isn’t quite able to as “Daughter.” She’s got the charisma and the talent, and she’s clearly a hard worker. (She performed her new cabaret act Beautiful Disaster at Joe’s Pub last night on her day off from The Memory Show). More people need to know who she is, and what she can do, and though her skills and her credibility are never in question, the size of her current audience is simply too small.
When she was passed over for the role of Fanny Bryce in the announced Broadway revival of Funny Girl a couple of years ago in favor of Lauren Ambrose (an actress I adore but doesn’t possess the musical theater chops Kritzer does), it seemed a travesty, and a missed opportunity. That the production never materialized on Broadway might be a sign — perhaps Kritzer’s chance at playing Fanny for a large audience is still on the horizon. Or, even more exciting, maybe her breakthough will come in a new musical designed around her unique talents.
Here’s hoping. She’s earned it, and she deserves it.
The Memory Show is playing at The Duke Theater
Running Time is 90 minutes, with no intermission