BWW Reviews: OUR FUNNY VALENTINE - Signature Theatre's Eclectic Celebration of Love
With temperatures dropping and a winter storm descending upon our nation's capital, audiences only had to look at the gaze in Chelsea Packard's eyes for warmth as she joined her husband Geoff in performing Our Funny Valentine in Signature's Ark Theatre. This affectionate and eclectic cabaret blended music and song to tell their story and celebrate love. It was a performance worth coming out for, despite Mother Nature's best intentions!
Our Funny Valentine was interesting because the Packard's song selection wasn't stacked with gooey, love-filled sentimental standards from Broadway's golden age. In fact, the seventy minute long cabaret only featured songs from five musicals: Damn Yankees, Hands on a Hard Body, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Music Man and Once. Quite the opposite from what you'd expect from a Valentine's Day themed show. However, the songs they choose had meaning. In sharing them with us; it provided the evening with heart.
Together they opened with "Two Lost Souls" which perfectly set the tone for the evening. The song established their relationship and the verse, "Wherever we go, whatever we do, as long as you've got me, and I've got you, we've got each other," perfectly foreshadowed what would make this evening special. For Chelsea and Geoff were not just a performing duo, their relationship extended beyond the stage and added a special sparkle to the evening.
Fittingly for a cabaret show, they interspersed stories and life experiences throughout the songs. We learned while Chelsea sang a glowing rendition of "The More I See You" that they meet while touring together in Wicked and that their first date was on Valentine's Day. The only mistake of the evening was that they didn't include a song from the oz-themed show. An odd decision considering that show played a significant part in their relationship. There's no doubt that their relationship could have added an emotion punch to "As Long As You're Mine."
What made Our Funny Valentine sweet without being overly indulgent was that both Packard's weren't about showcasing their talents, as they were each other's talent. Geoff informed the audience that in addition to being a talented musical theater musical actress, Chelsea was also a gift jazz singer which then led to her performance of the classic "If I Were a Bell." She returned the compliment by championing Geoff's talents as a songwriter leading him to perform an original work entitled "Unexpressed."
One of the wonderful things about seeing a couple perform together is that we get an insight into the nuances of their relationship and the little-things that keep them going. Midway thru the show Geoff and Chelsea played a game with the audience which they first invented while driving between touring cities together. In this game, one of them plays a casting director and the other an actor auditioning for an unknown musical using The Music Man's "The Wells Fargo Wagon." One of them, and in our case the audience, suddenly informs them of the musical they're auditioning for and they have to sing a chorus of the song in the style of that musical.
The audience clearly relished the chance to see them squirm and gladly joined in making Geoff and Chelsea vocals stretch for a wide-range of shows. Both easily rose to the challenge performing "The Wells Fargo Wagon" as if they were auditioning Annie, Cabaret, Jersey Boys and Les Miserables. Geoff's particular rendition in the style of Cabaret featured a hilarious performance as the Emcee complete with striptease!
The evening did feature some heavier songs include Pink and Nate Ruess' "Just Give Me A Reason" and "Gold" from the Tony Award-winning Best Musical Once. While a bit unconventional for a Valentine's Day-themed show, it was interesting to see the Packard's add depth to the show and in the process show-off their musical talents. Once, which revolves around two musicians named as they create music and fall in love, seemed the perfect embodiment of the Packard's story. For if it weren't for music, and specifically the Broadway musical, they might never have met.
Throughout the evening, Chelsea and Geoff were accompanied by the multi-talented pianist Howard Brietbart. This was my fourth time seeing a cabaret where Brietbart provided the musical accompaniment and I always marvel at his talent in being ready for whatever the performers or audience may bring. Some pianists would recoil with fear at the thought of the audience throwing musicals choices out for the Packard's audition game, but Brietbart just seemed to relish watching Chelsea attempt to have Fantine sing The Music Man while he played "I Dreamed the Dream" on the piano.