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BWW Review: ALI STROKER at Lincoln Center's American Songbook at The Appel Room

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BWW Review: ALI STROKER at Lincoln Center's American Songbook at The Appel Room

Bursting onto the Jazz at Lincoln Center stage like a chariot tackling the final stretch of the Race of Champions, Ali Stroker doesn't wear a bib on her sleeve, but if she did, you can bet rather than a number, it would bear but a single word: 'moxie.'

Indeed, the trailblazing artist, who made history in 2016 as the first actor in a wheelchair to appear on Broadway (in Deaf West's SPRING AWAKENING) only to make history again, but a few seasons later, as the first actor in a wheelchair to win a Tony Award (for her riotious spin on Ado Annie in Daniel Fish's reinvention of OKLAHOMA!) seems to be in the regular habit of breaking down barriers. And in her American Songbook debut, the gorgeously talented Stroker proves again the winning finish line of opportunity is a ribbon of victory easily dashed when talent and fearlessness are your modus operandi.

Launching, of course, with Sondheim's "Everybody Says Don't," Stroker, who possess the creamy, sweet soprano belt of a Disney princess, and the golden curls and classic profile of a silent film star is also the kind of gifted force with that rare instinct for the truest and most sincere of audience connection.

Centering her act on a dozen Broadway and pop standards that combine that kinship with earnest presence and an obvious love for performance, Stroker, with almost childlike joy, creates nimble musical portraits at once winsome ("Never Never Land") and sly (PIPPIN's "Kind of Woman," as in 'ordinary,' which Stroker is anything but...) with accomplished facileness.

Recreating two of her most familiar moments ("I Can't Say No," "All 'Er Nuthin") with OKLAHOMA! costar, James Davis, Stroker also reminds that she is the kind of singer whose unabashed playfullness can spin an audience blush into rousing ovation.

That exuberant spirit carries over to a rocking pair of duets with best gal pals, Katie Boeck ("Girls Just Want to Have Fun") and Alyse Alan Louis ("Proud Mary"), and I'd be remiss if I didn't add that I have rarely seen a performer who feels music in her body more than Ms. Stroker does. Indeed, for Ali Stroker music and movement seem, at once, as core to her being as breathing.

Pairing the country pop, 'Here You Come Again" with GREASE's "Hopelessly Devoted to You," Stroker makes a rich case for love found and lost, before being joined by the silver voiced, David Perlow (Stroker's partner in life and in the creation of this show) for a soulful spin on The Tempations's "I Wish It Would Rain;" the affection between them, simple, direct, and honest.

The evening's musical highlight is reserved for "Burn," the HAMILTON paen providing Stroker the musical opportunity to reveal previously un-showcased dramatic depth and lyrical dexterity. And If the strength of this performance makes one, perhaps, wish that she had included more musical risks to match her intrepid presence, it's not to take away from the celebratory accomplishment of the evening (and indeed, in most everything Ms. Stroker does here).

Ably supported throughout by musical director, John Fischer and musicians, Jonathan David Russell (Violin), Jerry DeVore (Bass); Zachary Eldridge (drums), Stroker speaks freely about her world and how, with awe inspiring speed, that world has changed.

Remembering a time, as an eleven year old, when she first took the stage of Don't Tell Mama with the simple wish, "Let Me Entertain You," Ali Stroker proves again at Lincoln Center that in the race of dream fulfillment, her marathon has only just begun. Frequently reaching out to her audiences, not just with hands but with heart, it's indeed a fast moving ascent; and one we're all but happy to grab the sails to take flight on.

Lincoln Center's American Songbook at the Apple Room: Ali Stroker, Friday, February 28, 2020.

Ali Stroker with guests, Katie Boeck, James Davis, Alyse Alan Louis, and David Perlow.

David Perlow (Director), John Fischer (Musical Director and Piano), Jonathan David Russell (Violin), Jerry DeVore (Bass), Zachary Eldridge (Drums).

PHOTO BY BRIGITTE JOUXTEL

Follow Ali Stroker @ALISTROKER


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From This Author Brady Schwind