BWW Review: Laura Hodos takes on Shakespeare at UCF Celebrates the Arts
There is no doubt that Shakespeare's influence on theater is pervasive. No one in Orlando does Shakespeare better than Orlando Shakespeare Theater. Now combine that with the talent and resources of UCF and you get THE BARD TAKES BROADWAY. As part of UCF Celebrates the Arts, this one-night show featured songstress Laura Hodos, accompanied by UCF professor Brian Hoffman, and produced by Orlando Shakes' Jim Helsinger.
Now when you think of Shakespeare, you don't instantly think of musicals. According to Laura Hodos, there are two types of people in this world: Those who like pure Shakespeare and those who like musical theater. Fortunately, Laura proves that this divide easily bridged.
This cabaret had everything a good cabaret should have: personality, highly curated content, high energy, humor, a beautiful art deco set and a great overarching theme. It is very clear from the start that Hodos and team did a lot of research to "edu-tain" the audience. There were originally composed parody pieces to describe different Shakespearean themes, which fell naturally into place. It never felt forced even when some songs tied a loosely to the Shakespeare theme.
I missed Laura Hodos in Mad Cow's all-female production of 1776 and her cabarets at Winter Park Playhouse. So I couldn't miss this chance to see Laura. She was everything I hoped for and expected. This cabaret not only showcased her writing talents, but also her personality and her wide vocal range. The cabaret felt personal with a mix of semi-autobiographical humor and true passion. Hodos dedicated "Should I Speak of Loving You" to her parents and sang with her whole heart. That's about the time that I realized I was sitting next to her parents. Both of whom beamed with pride.
Throughout the program, there were many Broadway standards that I recognized, but also didn't recognize as having a Shakespeare background. Hodos can sing it all. Everything from "I Just Can't Wait to be King" from THE LION KING, songs from KISS ME, KATE, to lesser known pieces like a song from TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA. The styles ranged from classical She also shows her vocal prowess during slow crooning numbers and classical pieces too. Her energy and personality shined consistently throughout the performance.
The show would not have been complete without UCF Professor, Brian Hoffman as the wizard on the piano. Hoffman's fancy fingers added so much more than musical accompaniment. Alongside the pair, two UCF students - saxophonist Dylan Young and musical theater student Allyson Rosenblum. The collaboration between Hodos and the young artists was a nice touch that illustrates the point of the Celebrates the Arts week.
But the showstopper to end all cabaret acts and perhaps one of the most obvious Broadway/Shakespeare tie is WEST SIDE STORY to ROMEO AND JULIET. At this point, Hodos and Hoffman performed for more than an hour without a break. Hodos set a timer for 15 minutes, then proceeded to play every character mash up of the WEST SIDE ROMEO AND JULIET STORY there was. Speaking in Shakespearean and breaking out into the music of Leonard Bernstein, Hodos was incredible to watch. The audience sat breathless as Hodos worked her way around the stage and back again without breaking a sweat. Meanwhile the story made sense.
The night ended with Hodos and the two UCF guest stars singing "There's No Business Like Showbusiness" to a room of people who truly appreciate and understand theater. Overall, this was probably the highlight of UCF Celebrates the Arts for Orlando theater people. It had all the elements necessary for a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Laura Hodos is the quintessential regional theater star that Orlando theater people love. (And that's why she won BroadwayWorld's Leading Lady Award this year. Who needs that lame Carbonell Award?). Upon leaving, I reflected on the personal nature of cabarets and thought "Wow I could be friends with her."
UCF Celebrates the Arts continues through this week (April 14th). For tickets to other events and full schedule visit http://arts.cah.ucf.edu/. If you missed this year be sure to mark your calendars for next year. There is some great content (and it's free!) for theater and art lovers alike.
Photo Credit: UCF Celebrates the Arts & Laura Hodos Headshot