BWW Reviews: Sizzlin' Summer Nights Cabaret Series Showcases Some of Signature's Best, Including Driscoll, Olivera, and Smith
As a bit of a musical theatre geek, admittedly one of the things I look forward to the most each summer in DC is the Sizzlin' Summer Nights Cabaret series at our very own Tony Award-winning Signature Theatre. So amidst all of the clamoring for press coverage of the concurrent Capital Fringe festival, I set out to ensure I catch at least as a few of this year's diverse music offerings. The offerings presented this past Friday night shined the spotlight on three performers we very know well from their years on the Signature stage. Erin Driscoll - just off of strong performances in Signature's Cloak and Dagger and The Threepenny Opera, as well as Violet at Ford's Theatre - took the stage with a solo cabaret act featuring memorable pop and musical theatre songs from her 1980s childhood. Later that evening, Tracy Lynn Olivera (most recently in Signature's productions of Gypsy and Crossing) and Bobby Smith (most recently in Signature's The Threepenny Opera) took the stage to, well, sing what they wanted to and clearly have a lot of fun doing it.
Donning 80s-style clothing, Driscoll delighted the crowd with songs that kindled her unabashed love for musical theatre when she was growing up. From "Maybe" (Annie) and "Part of Your World" (The Little Mermaid) to Andrew Lloyd Webber songs that not every little kid might love like "Macavity: The Mystery Cat" (Cats) and "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" (The Phantom of the Opera), it was also a bit of a revisit to my own childhood. Her vocal strengths were best displayed on "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again," which showcased her lovely soprano range, beautiful vocal tone, and vocal control. Yet, the interesting inclusion of "Macavity: The Mystery Cat" - Erin explained that song resonated with her more than the ubiquitous "Memory" - was notable for just letting loose and having fun with a song and dance kind of musical theatre number.
An exploration of pop/film music from her childhood era - Springsteen's "I'm on Fire" and "What a Feeling" (from the cult favorite movie, Flashdance) as well as several others - gave way to some stories about the interesting (and sometimes inappropriate music she connected with as a child and several fun vocal numbers that allowed her to share other dimensions of her versatile voice.
Her vocal highlights of the night, however, came in the form of Driscoll's renditions of two Sondheim favorites - "On the Steps of the Palace" (Into the Woods) and "Not a Day Goes By" (Merrily We Roll Along). Quipping to the audience that "if you didn't like Sondheim what were you doing at Signature," these performances were memorable for not only her very pleasing vocals, but solid lyrical interpretation - a must for any successful renditions of Sondheim's creations. One must also give credit for taking on a monster of the American music theatre canon. Maltby and Shire's "The Story Goes On" (from Baby) is one of those songs that many musical theatre obsessed girls of a certain age grew up wanting to sing. I mean, who can resist Liz Callaway's interpretation of that song? Driscoll's take on the song - while not complete perfection - was one of the stronger attempts I've heard and I give her many kudos for attempting it. It was clear the song meant a lot to her and she did do it justice.
Accompanied by the equally talented William Yanesh on piano - a young music star in his own right - her cabaret turned out to be an enormously enjoyable one.
If Erin's cabaret was a solid example of a theme-based cabaret done really well, Olivera and Smith's cabaret in the "late slot" is an example of how with the right performers involved, a non-theme-based cabaret can still work very well.
Olivera - stepping in for her husband Evan Casey who booked a television show - can pretty much sing everything astoundingly well. This cabaret was no exception. Whether singing somewhat off-kilter and unexpected numbers like "Screw Loose" (from the somewhat recent flop musical, Cry-Baby) to more traditional ones like "How Lucky Can You Get" to many more, her enviable vocal tone and immediate connection to any lyric - whether sardonic or romantic - you're pretty much in for a masterclass on how to do cabaret. Bringing humor in between (and sometimes during) song selections, it was great to see Ms. Olivera back onstage once again. She stepped in like the pro she is.
Smith's controlled and well-trained tenor voice has been well used in many a Signature and other local theatre productions. I've not had the chance to hear him in a cabaret setting before, but I definitely appreciated his unexpected song selections. From "Bésame Mucho" (complete with an interesting translation from Ms. Olivera) to "I Don't Remember Christmas" (Maltby and Shire's Starting Here, Starting Now), he delivered not only great vocals, but shared his well-honed comedic skills. I particularly enjoyed that he included the latter number, which he explained he fell in love with as a 12-year-old in Richmond even though it was hardly an appropriate song for a boy that age to sing.
The vocal highlight of their set, however, came in the form of an arrangement featuring Kander and Ebb's "Sometimes a Day Goes By" and "I Don't Remember You." Mr. Smith performed And the World Goes 'Round on Broadway and it was nice to hear David Loud's original arrangement used in that show. Olivera and Smith's voices, though vastly different, lent themselves well to the duet and the rapport they displayed with one another during those moments as well as the rest of the show added something even a little more special.
Accompanied by the exceptional Lenny Williams on piano (seriously his skills are amazing), this cabaret was another one for the books.
This review covers cabaret performances from July 12. For additional information on the Sizzlin' Summer Nights Cabaret Series and a list of upcoming performances now through July 26, consult the Signature website: http://www.signature-theatre.org/sizzlin-summer-nights-series
Photos: Courtesy of Signature Theatre's website