BWW Reviews: Actress/Singer REBECCA SPENCER Brings a Lilting and Classy Fair Warning to Vitello's
On Friday August 15 singer/actress Rebecca Spencer made her Los Angles concert debut with Fair Warning at Upstairs at Vitello's with her long-time collaborator Philip Fortenberry as musical director, also making his LA debut.
As the press release states Spencer's signature has become unique arrangements that fuse both classical and contemporary expressions of the art song, along with the romantic American Songbook, Broadway, film and popular music. She has two CDs. The first Wide Awake and Dreaming won a BackStage Bistro Award for Excellence in Cabaret Recording and the latest Fair Warning provided the title for her LA concert.
Spencer is a vital actress/woman who lives through the music one beat at a time, in the moment, infusing every lyric with deep feeling. Like any good actress, she loves what she does and sprinkles, like magic dust, the fruits of that aura over everyone around her. She is consistently real, no pretense here, as she finely paces her ruminations and copiously shares those pleasant rich memories. She moved from center stage stage left a couple of times during the 85-minute set where there was a divan for her to sit on. It was if she were holding court in her own living room, she was that relaxed, personal, gracious and highly spirited. With a delightful laugh that colors her comments on her association with Marvin Hamlisch or Ragime or Jekyll & Hyde, she possesses a rich soprano that often stretches to the contralto range, and on occasion surprisingly even lower..to, I swear I heard a few bars in the bass range emanating from her. What a classy and joyful performer!
Highlights of the evening included many selections from both CDs such as "The Girl Who Used to Be Me" by Hamlisch and the Bergmans from the film Shirley Valentine, "Deep Purple", the delicious "Something in Red", a brilliantly arranged "A Taste of Honey", the vibrantly funny "Eat Drink and Be Mary!" and "Home Sweet Heaven from the musical High Spirits. Many of these arrangements beautifully include strains of classical composers like Copeland, Bach, and Rachmaninoff. Her opener "Speak Softly Now" by Nino Rota from The Godfather was laced with Rachmaninoff Prelude in C sharp. This was a rare and different opening for a cabaret artist. Most belt out a big production number or try to show their vocal prowess right at the top. Not Spencer - and I laud her artistry for this - she started slowly and oh so softly - just as the song suggests... a genuine and charming yet bold and daring choice. The set also included a wonderful Jerry Herman reflection with "Song on the Sand" from La Cage, "If He Walked into My Life" from Mame, and "Time Heals Everything" from Mack and Mabel, once again preciously arranged and delivered with Spencer's unique style and dynamics.
Fortenberry rocked the house with a Rodgers and Hammerstein Medley that included "Sound of Music", "Some Enchanted Evening", "Younger Than Springtime", "If I Loved You", "Honey Bun" and an incredibly dazzling display of artistry with "Oklahoma", "Nothing Like a Dame" flowing magically with near to perfect rhythmic dynamic into "Do Re Mi". His transitions from one song to the next are amazing. He is a true artist...and he and Rebecca Spencer, after a collaboration of many years...belong together.
I don't like to use the word diva, unless it refers to opera, where it originated, or unless I'm exaggerating a performer's excessively strong demeanor, but Rebecca Spencer stands out as a quiet diva, a classy and down.to.earth mother, who is bound to leave her lasting mark on LA just as she has everywhere else. She's remarkably adept in every way, elegantly stunning...a truly unique artist on the cabaret scene. Welcome!