BWW Review: ANN KITTREDGE Triumphs at Feinstein's / 54 Below
Even before she takes the stage, Ann Kittredge is a knock-out. Emerging from the back of the theatre in a red satin robe, hands playfull sparring in black boxing gloves, Ms. Kittredge seems poised for victory. And by the end of her superbly crafted musical revue, Fancy Meeting You Here, An Evening of Ahrens & Flaherty, you'd be hard pressed to find a challenger to disagree. For in this, Ms. Kittredge's follow up to her 2018 Mac Award winning cabaret debut, she emerges as story-songstress supreme: a title that may be undefeated for some time to come.
Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, the Tony Award winning team behind RAGTIME, ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, ANASTASIA, (and yes, ROCKY: THE MUSICAL) have risen through the ranks to become, over the past thirty years, one of the American Musical Theatre's most diverse composing teams. As Ms. Kittredge explains, 'their signature style was not to have one.' And in looking to their canon, Kittredge has found an inspired playground to explore the full range of her talent.
A warm and elegant presence, with lanky figure and classic features that bring to mind the glamour of both Hollywood past (Loretta Young) and present (Patricia Clarkson) Kittredge is a deft raconteur. As luck would have it, she's also a persuasive chameleon, and in its most rousing moments, Fancy Meeting You Here provides the actress with ample opportunity to disappear into the array of complex personalities that have become synonymous with Ahrens and Flaherty musical catalogue.
Launching with a sterling opening medley that weaves pieces of Ahrens and Flaherty's best known material (songs like "Journey to the Past" from ANASTASIA, "Waiting for Life" from ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, and "Wheels of a Dream" from RAGTIME) Kittredge, whose own friendship with the composing team began when they were emerging artists, next jumps forward in time to examine "Garden," a rarely performed Ahrens and Flaherty trunk song that paints a moving portrait of a middle-aged widow straddling the worlds of her inner and outer creation.
A segment from musical THE GLORIOUS ONE, about a troupe of 17th century Italian theatre artists, perfectly sets the stage for Kittredge to tackle a dazzling sequence of characters from Ahrens and Flaherty's Off-Broadway musicals; traversing Ireland ("Streets of Dublin" from A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE) Hollywood (a Tallulah Bankhead worthy "If the World Were Like the Movies" from MY FAVORITE YEAR) and Paris (for a riotous and audience-participatory lesson in "Speaking French" from LUCKY STIFF) in the process. Without spoiling the delights of the latter, let's just say that the lady knows how to work a room...
While Ms. Kittredge's comic chops are formidable, it is, in truth, in quieter, more introspective songs that her voice finds fullest expression and we are brought, perhaps, closest to the core of who she is. Possessing a crystalline soprano and clear blue eyes that are frequently filled with wonder or heartbreak, a gentle humanity emerges in gentle confessionals like "My Body Wasn't Why" from THE GLORIOUS ONES or the delicate "The Bend of My Arms," FROM Dessa Rose, sensitively dueted with Marcus Lovett.
Charging forward, in Kittredge's hands, an understated blending of "Make Them Hear You" from RAGTIME and "I'm Still Standing" from ROCKY: THE MUSICAL become a pointed, impassioned plea for change, "At the Beginning" (from ANASTASIA) a breezy swinging jazz, and "Back to Before" (also from RAGTIME) a full circle moment for Kittredge, who initially left showbiz to become a mother.
Throughout, Kittredge here is expertly guided by a collaborative dream team that includes musical direction by Alex Rybeck, Mary Ann McSweeney, on bass, and direction by the indomitable Andrea Marcovicci. It is perhaps Marcovicci, the chanteuse whose own brand of intricately constructed cabaret became the gold standard in the 1980s and 1990s that Kittredge's performance most brings to mind. Like Marcovicci, Kittredge's vocal instrument is somewhat limited in range and color, and if in its elegance, the evening doesn't give complete service to the rhythmic size and scope of Ahrens and Flaherty's myriad of styles and sounds, it is always perfect tailored for the gifts of the artist on stage.
And in her ability to captivate her audience on a heartfelt and deeply satisfying journey, Ann Kittredge reveals those gifts are many. By the final moments of Fancy Meeting You, arms no longer sparring, but instead stretched open to a thunderous ovation: she's proven what, as it turns out, we've known all along: she's a total champ.
Ann Kittredge will be performing Fancy Meeting You Here: An Evening of Ahrens & Flaherty in Los Angeles at Feinstein's at Vitello's on November 12.
Photo by Maryann Lopinto