NYC piano bar brings Broadway to Bing

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.

This past Saturday, The Studio at Bing Concert Hall was transformed. The space was flooded with dim, red lighting and Mondrian-esque shadows of rectangles were imprinted against the walls. In the center of the room was a topless Steinway piano; a few patrons sat drinking at the tables scattered across the space, but most audience members stood and milled about, chitchatting and filling the room with a soft buzz until pianist Brandon James Gwinn began to play.

Gwinn works at the legendary piano bar Marie’s Crisis in New York City’s West Village. Both industry insiders and fans flock to Marie’s Crisis, known for its boisterous sing-alongs to Broadway show tunes. Following performances on campus in 2020 and 2023, Gwinn returned Saturday to bring the experience back to Stanford.

Gwinn performed a variety of show tunes, including songs from hit shows such as “Chicago,” “Guys and Dolls” and “Rent.” His fingers raced across the piano and he often improvised bits as he sang, looping a melody within the piece to create a pause in which he added ad libs and small comments. 

“A fermata is a pause,” Gwinn said, explaining a piece of musical terminology to the audience. “And what does a fermata mean? It means we drink!” 

Gwinn took advantage of the small, intimate space to playfully rib audience members. At one point, Gwinn made an obscure reference, to which someone in the audience responded, “I caught that — I’m from New Jersey.” The two briefly bonded over their shared home state, and for the rest of the night, Gwinn referred to her affectionately as “Jersey.” 

Other audience members also caught Gwinn’s teasing, getting interrogated on their favorite musicals and whether or not anyone still wears a hat. 

“It’s like SeaWorld,” Gwinn cautioned midway through the show. “If you sit in the front, you might get splashed.”

One of the highlights of the night was listening to the guest performers Gwinn welcomed onstage. At Marie’s Crisis, everyone — from bartenders to servers — can sing, and staff members are often ushered onstage to belt out a quick solo. Gwinn brought this tradition to Bing, inviting a host of Stanford students to perform.

The student performances were remarkable. There were many standouts: Vivian Leilani Shay ’24 performed a sultry rendition of “Roxie” from “Chicago,” and Moira O’Bryan ’25 belted out “What Baking Can Do” from “Waitress.” 

Corrie Branche ’25 sang “Vanilla Ice Cream” from “She Loves Me” in a perfect comic soprano. Her voice soared through the room as she played up the exaggerated expressions of a suddenly smitten woman, batting her eyelashes and clasping her hands together. Theater and performing arts Ph.D. student Westley Montgomery leaned into dark drama and faux French accents in a performance of “Noel’s Lament” from “Ride the Cyclone.”

To conclude, Gwinn performed “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked,” a perennial crowd-pleaser. It was the perfect piece to close the night. Even at the most difficult parts, everyone kept singing along, belting as if they were Broadway stars, voices melting together and filling the small room with warmth.