BWW Reviews: ALYSHA UMPHRESS Ignites Signature Theatre in Solo Cabaret
Alysha Umphress, with several Broadway credits under her belt (American Idiot, On a Clear Day you Can See Forever, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Bring it On), made a splash at the Tony Award-winning Signature Theatre this past season with her performance of Cee Cee Bloom in the world premiere of a screen-to-stage adaptation of Beaches. Impressed by her vocals in American Idiot and with a love for new musicals, I trekked to Signature to see her in Beaches and came away enormously impressed, not only due to her considerable vocal talents and comedic timing, but because she thankfully did not seem to be impersonating Bette Midler who originated the role on screen. This weekend, she returned to Signature to wow local audiences again with her powerful voice, but this time in a solo cabaret as part of the ongoing Sizzlin' Summer Nights cabaret series.
Starting off strong on Jeff Blumenkrantz's "Celebrate," accompanied by her musical director Adam Wachter on piano, the personable and highly versatile Umphress showed her enviable ability to engage an audience with a song at the first syllable. While every song from there on out was sung exquisitely well - interspersed with charming stories about her climb up the ladder in the NYC musical theatre scene - a few stood out as being among the most memorable.
First and foremost was her original jazz-infused rendition of Green Day's "Holiday." While in the theatrical production this number is full out angst-ridden pop/punk rock, this new arrangement (created with recent Tony nominee for Violet and fellow American Idiot cast member Joshua Henry) was something entirely different and unique. Rendering the familiar tune almost unrecognizable, but in a good way, Umphress' intuitive vocal choices and easy transitions from one beautiful note to another were a solid match for this gem of a sophisticated arrangement. Another jazz tune, "Lush Life," was also exquisitely song. Her palpable rich emotions mixed with a ridiculous amount of vocal control made that one another highlight to be sure.
Umphress also showcased her ability to tackle ballads. Whether the iconic "Wind Beneath My Wings" (Silbar/Henley), Lane/Lerner's "On a Clear Day (You Can See Forever)," or William Finn's "Anytime (I Am There)" (Elegies) she sung them flawlessly. I happened to see the revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever during its very brief Broadway run several years ago so this number brought back some fond memories of the wonderful music in that show. Jessie Mueller, whom Umphress understudied, was brilliant in the role, but Umphress' rendition of this song is just as strong. I also appreciated the subtle personal touches she gave to "Anytime (I Am There)." Any cabaret featuring William Finn's music is always a good thing in my book.