Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Julie Benko: Stand By, Me
Venetian Room

Also see Patrick's recent review of The Tutor

Julie Benko
Photo by Jon Finck
In far too many cabaret shows, the patter between songs tends toward the "this is one of my favorite tunes from..." or "the first time I heard this song, I knew I had to sing it" or "I'm sure you'll all recognize this one..." Yawn. But in Broadway star Julie Benko's new offering, Standby, Me, her audience is treated not only to her charming personality and lovely, evocative soprano, but we also get a lesson in what some familiar (yet also sometimes mysterious) theatrical terms mean. What's a swing? How is it different from a standby? And how is standby different than alternate or understudy?

Over the course of 90 or so minutes, Benko and her extremely talented pianist, husband Jason Yeager, banter back and forth in a delightful old married couple sort of way. At the top of the show, Yeager asks the audience to welcome a singer who got her big break stepping in for another performer: "Please welcome Sutton Foster!" Corrected by Benko, standing off to one side of the stage in San Francisco's Venetian Room, Yeager tries again: "Ladies and gentlemen, Lea Michele! No? Shirley McLaine!" When he finally gets it right, Benko bounds onto the stage and launches into a sweet story of how she got her first Broadway gig in Spring Awakening, segueing into a powerful rendition of that show's "Mama Who Bore Me." (As she was circling her breast with the hand not holding the mic while she sang, she quipped "this is the original choreography. I think.")

From there, Benko and Yeager kept the songs–and wonderful, even heartwarming, stories–coming. She spoke of her rise from ensemble swing (someone who covers multiple roles in the ensemble) to understudy to alternate to her six-week run as Fanny Brice in the Broadway revival of Funny Girl (between Beanie Feldstein and Lea Michele) and playing Ruth in Barry Manilow's musical about the Comedian Harmonists, Harmony. When she got her first Broadway gig as a star, her father brought a bright red towel to lay at the stage door so she could enter the theater on her own "red carpet." I told you, heartwarming.

Her set was surprisingly diverse, including not only Broadway mega-hits such as "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Misérables and "I'm the Greatest Star" from Funny Girl, but Wardell Gray and Annie Ross's jazz hit "Twisted," John Denver's "Leaving on a Jet Plane," Cole Porter's "I Love Paris," and, as a fitting close, Ben E. King's (written with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller) "Stand By Me."

As sweet and sassy as her vocals could be, it was the stories of her career that truly captivated the sold-out crowd. It was a tale of struggle, commitment, and chasing a dream that almost no one ever catches. She told us of her love for theatre, but also about her insecurities, thinking about the times she got to step in for a star and wondering how many people in the theater "will be disappointed because it's me."

Julie Benko is set to grace New York's Café Carlyle on May 3-4, 2024. Check her out. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Standby, Me played just one night, April 14, 204, at the Fairmont Hotel, Venetian Room, 950 Mason St, San Francisco CA. For information on the venue, please visit