BWW Reviews: FIVE: AN ENCORE PERFORMANCE at The Belcourt Theatre


Nashville theater-goers may have experienced the second coming on Monday night - what with the return of those FIVE divas with their Encore performance - and while it might not have been part of that much-discussed rapture we've heard so much about of late, they certainly responded rapturously to the entertainment provided by the quintet of versatile triple threats.

In fact, judging from the expressions on the faces of those aforementioned audience members, they certainly appeared to be transported, so who knows? Maybe it was "the rapture" we experienced at the Belcourt Theatre - just in a different manner than anticipated. (Hey, it could happen...I'm no biblical scholar and I seriously doubt you are, buddy...)

Capitalizing on the tremendous success of their first offering (staged at Street Theatre Company in March), simply known as FIVE, the multi-talented and versatile group of women gave their Encore audience more of the same, adding some new musical numbers and more sparkling repartee, while engaging everyone with their charm, their presence and their way with a song. Clearly, Erin Parker, Laura Matula, Megan Murphy Chambers, Melodie Madden Adams and Cori Laemmel collectively know how to entertain and to impress with their seemingly boundless talent, but more importantly, each woman is a definite life force in her own right, able to command the stage just as authoritatively as an individual as she is with her "sisters" in tow.

While Encore opened as the original FIVE show did - a tribute to five iconic divas who represent at least one facet of each woman, treating us to those divas' signature songs - it surpassed that initial offering by giving us a better read on each of the women, allowing them to show more of themselves in the frank and naked way that makes cabaret more appealing and accessible.

For example, Laemmel (whose iconic inspiration is Audrey Hepburn) is cast as the wide-eyed and trusting innocent who considers herself far more worldly than her offstage demeanor would suggest; Matula (the Judy Garland of the ensemble, minus the pill-popping) is the driven, controlling, single-minded diva whose brash exterior masks her kind heart and vulnerabilities; Madden-Adams (the kinder, gentler Barbra Streisand) is the consummate former scholarship competition (read "beauty pageant") contestant who loves the spotlight as much as she does world peace; and Chambers (channeling Liza Minnelli) is the "slutty hermaphrodite with man hands" who can deliver a zinger like nobody's business, while being totally forthcoming about herself and her unique take on life.


That leaves Parker (finding inspiration in Marilyn Monroe sans JFK, Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio), whose brainchild is FIVE, and who is known as the "mama diva" of the bunch. Yet somehow Parker remains an enigma. It's ironic that her "character" in the five of FIVE is unclear: Parker is far too savvy to appear wide-eyed, too nice to be controlling, too genuine to fake it as a pageant girl and too much a woman to appear hermaphroditic - although the jury's still out on that slutty thing. But who is the real Erin Parker? She's an amazing presence onstage, showing off an awe-inspiring versatility (not only is she a superb actress and singer, but she also plays accordion and harmonica - and while I'm clearly no judge of what makes one a capable accordionist or harmonicist [can that be right?], she impresses the hell out of me for those two talents alone) that aspiring young starlets must covet. Being enigmatic is not a bad thing - and, in fact, it might be shrewd marketing on the part of MAS Nashville: keep the audience guessing and they'll keep coming back for more. But I want her "character" to be more defined in the future (hey, you've got until December to work on this assignment, ladies, when the next installment lands onstage).

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.

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