BWW Review: Feinstein's/54 Below Celebrated the Birthday of an Icon with 54 SINGS DOLLY PARTON
Is there a better way to celebrate the birth of one of the greatest living songwriters than with song itself? I think not. And Feinstein's/54 Below clearly felt the same last night when it brought some of Broadway's greatest voices together to celebrate the birthday of one Miss Dolly Parton. The woman who gave us 'I Will Always Love You', 'Jolene', '9 to 5' and so much more is not only one of the greatest singers, songwriters, and entertainers of all time, but one of those rare artists who has the ability to reach across barriers and touch everyone from drag queens to Middle America, to the mass public, and bring them all together in celebration of beautiful music. It would be a rare thing to find someone without some kind of memory attached to a Dolly Parton song. Getting to hear a collection of Broadway's brightest stars pay tribute to such a legend was a treat.
It's never easy to sing the songs made famous by an icon, but last night's performers were more than up to the task, toting star power and vocal power in equal measure. The lineup consisted of Broadway powerhouses including Diana DeGarmo (9 to 5, "American Idol"), Teal Wicks (The Cher Show, Wicked), Dee Roscioli (Wicked, The Cher Show), Nicole Vanessa Ortiz (Smokey Joe's Cafe), Jacob Keith Watson (Carousel, Violet), Lauren Molina (Rock of Ages, The Skivvies)... and that's only a handful of the incredible talent who graced the stage of Broadway's Living Room. The full list of performers can be found below as it would be something of a crime not to shine a light on every one of the night's fantastic singers.
The glue that held 54 Sings Dolly Parton together was the band: Alex Brumel on guitar and drums, Allison Kelly on bass, Douglas Waterbury-Tieman on fiddle and mandolin, music director Eli Zoller on piano and guitar; and the back-up vocalists: Gregory Driscoll, Jenna Najjar, Ian Shain, and Sarah Warrick. It was these vocalists who kicked off Dolly's birthday celebration with the universal crowd-pleaser '9 to 5'. There didn't seem to be a hit left out of the setlist or a performer who did not do Dolly justice with their rendition, though there were certainly some standouts to the night: Marissa Rosen (Kristin Chenoweth: For The Girls) brought the party to the birthday with 'Two Doors Down'; Teal Wicks' 'Little Sparrow' was beautifully haunting and soulful; Audrey Cardwell (Falsettos, Bright Star) lifted the room like an energy shot with 'Why'd You Come in Here Lookin' Like That'; and Diana DeGarmo had the honor of closing the show with one of the greatest songs ever written 'Jolene', and that cool, rock n' roll grit to her voice was everything someone listening to that song could have wanted. However, the loudest applause of the night indisputably went to Nicole Vanessa Ortiz, whose 'I Will Always Love You' blended the best of Dolly and Whitney Houston, and genuinely brought tears to my eyes. The applause continued long after Ortiz had left the stage as if the audience was reluctant to let her go.
The song choice and order in which they were sung allowed for an evenly paced night of high energy hits and quiet moments. While you could tell that every one of the performers had a connection to Dolly Parton, there was some lyric-looking within the numbers, and there wasn't a true emcee figure vamping to the audience to thread each performance together in any sort of narrative way-a touch more of the personal to the night would have been wonderful. Dolly Parton meant enough to these great performers that they lent their time and talents to honor her on her birthday, I would have loved to have heard a short anecdote about why Dolly Parton meant something to them, and their personal connection to the song they were singing. Dolly Parton was the "guest" of honor. Isn't it only natural for everyone to get up and share stories about the person they're celebrating during their birthday party?
With that being said, Dolly Parton is someone to be celebrated and 54 Sings Dolly Parton was a dazzling, gorgeously sung tribute to an icon whose star only seems to shine brighter every year. Dolly Parton would have been honored to have heard her songs interpreted by such incredible performers, and I certainly felt grateful to have heard them myself.
Audrey Cardwell (Falsettos, Bright Star)
Ben Clark (The Circus in Winter, Skin and Bones)
Diana DeGarmo (9 to 5, "American Idol")
Gregory Driscoll (54 Sings Beyoncé)
Jessica Hendy (Cats)
Victoria Huston-Elem (Finding Neverland)
Charlotte Maltby (The Sound of Music)
Russell McCook (Bad People)
Lauren Molina (Rock of Ages, The Skivvies)
Jenna Najjar (54 Sings Ed SHeeran)
Nicole Vanessa Ortiz (Smokey Joe's Cafe)
Dee Roscioli (Wicked, The Cher Show)
Ian Shain (Dolly Parton's Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol)
Pearl Sun (Come From Away)
Kuhoo Verma (Octet)
Jacob Keith Watson (Carousel, Violet)
Teal Wicks (The Cher Show, Wicked)
Eli Zoller (First Date)
Photo Credit: Mike Szpot