BWW Reviews: Versatile, Talented Vocalist Tracy Lynn Olivera Celebrates CD Release at Signature Theatre
I was first introduced to the exceedingly exceptional vocal talents of Tracy Lynn Olivera at MetroStage in 2005. As a self-described Jason Robert Brown fanatic, I couldn't resist seeing what the small (and to me, unknown) company did with his deeply personal and intimate musical The Last Five Years. Thus, I made the daunting trek out to suburbia with my fellow Jason Robert Brown fanatic little sister. Though this music played a while ago, I still recall being hugely impressed with a young talent by the name of Tracy Lynn Olivera in the role of Cathy, so much so that I made a mental note to follow her career as long as I remained in the DC area post-graduate school. Fast forward to now, she's continued to make an impression on me in her many varied roles at Signature Theatre, but also Ford's Theatre, Olney Theatre Center, the Kennedy Center, and more. Put simply, she's proved time and time again that she's one of the best and most versatile musical theatre talents this area has to offer whether she's performing in a classic musical or a contemporary one. As such, I wasn't particularly surprised that she wowed me yet again last night at her solo cabaret performance celebrating her CD release at Signature Theatre.
Much like Olivera's career itself - in the past few years she's played everything from the hilarious Electra in Signature Theatre's production of Gypsy, and Irene Molloy in Hello Dolly at Ford's Theatre, to a nun in the Olney Theatre Center's The Sound of Music, a variety of characters in contemporary world premiere musicals at Signature, and more - the cabaret was the definition of versatility. Taking on everything from classic showtunes and country music tunes, to (of all things) songs made famous by Miley Cyrus and Beyoncé, her set list certainly offered a little bit of something for everyone, including several numbers that appear on her new album, Because.
Featuring comedic stories, serious reflective moments, and a dazzling display of stunning musicianship and vocal range - the event pretty much should serve as a 'how to' guide on how to put together a cabaret set. It was relaxed, but still very well constructed. The jokes and stories also landed, but did not come off as being too-rehearsed or designed specifically to get a certain audience reaction at a specific moment in time. There was a nice balance of patter and singing, and the solid use of her equally talented band - musical director Lenny Williams on piano, Chris Biondo on bass, Steven Walker on guitar/ukulele, and Raice McLeod on drums - also made for an ultimately memorable evening.
The vocal highlights were undoubtedly numerous.
Two of these came in the form of numbers that contributors to her CD Kickstarter campaign requested that she perform. Showing off her comedic timing on the unfortunate pop hit "Wrecking Ball" - and clearly achieving a vocal performance that Miley Cyrus could only dream about - she emphasized her unique ability to make even one of the most lyrically atrocious songs in the world sound really, really good and actually seem to be, well, saying something. The same goes for her performance of Beyoncé's "Single Ladies/Put a Ring on It." Her take on this song - borrowing heavily from the arrangement that Sara Bareilles does on occasion in live concerts (good taste, Tracy, good taste) - made even these obnoxiously insipid songs seem far less so. Backup vocalists Maria Egler and Carolyn Cole - talented singers in their own right - were solid contributors to the success of both songs. Their inclusion offered some much welcomed fun and lightheartedness.
For the showtune-crazed types in the audience, one could not help to fall in love with her understated and lovely rendition of Sondheim's "So Many People" (from Saturday Night) or her perfectly phrased take on Rodgers and Hart's more upbeat and jazzy "You Mustn't Kick It Around" (from Pal Joey). If there's a classic musical theatre song out there that you've heard a million times, there's a good chance that Ms. Olivera can make you feel like you've never heard the song before and make you recall why it was so good in the first place. I appreciated that she didn't take too many liberties in either of these songs, opting for more of a straight-forward rendition of them and staying true to their intent. The combination of enviable vocal control and emotion made both of them unforgettable.
Other 'highs' came in the form of the well-known country standard "Lovesick Blues," probably made most famous by Patsy Cline. Yodeling and Tracy Lynn Olivera? Who knew? Either way this number - requested by another Kickstarter contributor - worked in that it showcased a different dimension of her voice that we usually don't hear when she's performing in musicals. The same can be said for her take on Lyle Lovett's "Cowboy Man," which is featured on her album.