BWW Review: Regina Zona Holds Court at The Laurie Beechman Theatre in BECOMING...THE QUEEN 2.0
From the moment she turns around and the spotlight hits her, it is apparent that Regina Zona was born to be a Queen. Regal and sophisticated, stunningly beautiful in that Alexis Smith/Ann Sheridan fashion, possessing of a commanding presence that dares you to look away, Ms. Zona stands elegantly couture'd in a manner befitting both a Prima Dona and a Diva, all the while exuding a warmth that informs her show, letting all know that this will be authentic to who she is, right down to a sense of humor insisting that she make fun of herself. In her debut cabaret, Regina Zona charts the journey that brought her from the opera world, through the teaching profession, to the cabaret community, which is precisely where she belongs, at this moment in time. Never having been a part of the opera world, it is difficult for this writer to make any kind of informed judgment about that community, but it is perfectly clear that Regina Zona's personality and sense of humor fit in with that of the cabaret family as though she were born precisely for this purpose, and that her show BECOMING...THE QUEEN 2.0 (an encore presentation of Becoming...The Queen) is a club act people will want to see again and again.
There are many different types of Queens in the world. There are Royal Queens, Opera Queens, Drama Queens... and Regina Zona is all of the Queens in one perfect package; she seems rather proud of it, too. The evening may start with a recording of the Prima Donna singing the role of The Queen of The Night but when Zona gets to her portion of the show, she doesn't go for the obvious, oh no. This Lady starts her show the right way, with the sonic boom that is a spectacular mash-up of "Raise the Roof" and "Welcome to My Party," designed in a way that she can announce herself and show everyone that this Queen means business. It is a far reach of the imagination to think of her starting her show any other way. For some 60 minutes, Regina Zona manages to get through a surprising amount of musical material, material that, in lesser hands, would require 75 minutes, the point at which a club act is beginning to feel long. Ms. Zona's act never feels long. With her director, the incomparable Lina Koutrakos, Regina Zona has created a lovely script that flows with ease and style, direct, to the point, and never verbose. She chooses her words wisely, and she knows them (thank you, Regina, for getting out on the stage without a cheat sheet, you get a gold star, a blue ribbon and every accolade in the book for your commitment to memorizing your script), making it possible for her to stand before her audience, telling her story, a happy and interesting one. She pays attention to her court of admirers, seeing to it that each guest feels seen, feels welcome, feels appreciated. Regina Zona is a Mistress of working the room, from the wall house right to the wall house left, looking everyone in the eye, chatting directly with people whom she knows, singing to the family she loves, posing for the cameras of strangers, and flirting with the patrons off the street. Using her enjoyable script to its greatest advantage, Zona sees to it that the transitions from text into marvelously mated song choices are expertly executed in a manner that allows her audience to relax and observe, rather than work to follow along. She knows herself well enough to indicate when she is being cheeky, referring to herself in ways ironic ("Because I'm so subtle") and soul-bearing ("This song is the reason I met my wife"). As a human being and as an actress, she is willing to go there, wherever there is, whatever will tell her story, and she is safe to do that because she has a net: Koutrakos, Musical director Jonathan K. Parks and band members Sean Murphy (bass) and Mike Lunoe (drums). Never, at any time, does Regina Zona appear self-conscious or intimidate by her task - she is a professional entertainer, through and through.
There is a caution, though, and it is an easy one to fix, one to which many debut cabaret artists can fall prey, stemming out of an admirable goal. Regina Zona comes from the Opera world, a world where everything is in its place. She has an ambition to present the best, the perfect product for her audience, and that product is a show. She has written her script, she has listened to her director, she has mapped out her route, and she has committed herself to deliver to her audience that journey. There are times at which it appears that every moment has been planned, every raised eyebrow, every shoulder shrug, every pause for breath; that may not be the case, but it sometimes looks that way, and no matter how well-rehearsed your club act is, it cannot ever appear rehearsed. It is clear that Regina Zona is doing a play up there: there is a character and there is an arc, and it is all well and good for her to play that character and that arc, only dropping out of it when the time comes for the obligatory thank-you speech in which a cabaret artist drops the curtain and speaks as themselves. There is nothing wrong with any of this if that is the club act you want to do: but it can never appear false. There are times when Ms. Zona's clear (and admirable) dedication to her script takes a front seat to her personal charm, and when that happens she runs the risk of her rhetoric sounding like Eve Harrington's Sarah Siddons speech. Take care, dear artists, to never sound like Eve Harrington's Sarah Siddons speech - your intimate cabaret room audiences can smell disingenuous the way a horse can smell fear, and you will lose them. The cure for this is a simple soupcon of sincerity throughout the delicious, devilish, dramatic and dulcet proceedings on display from Ms. Zona.
Because the music is exceptional. This is a singing actress who has spent her life caring for her instrument, fine-honing her craft and respecting her art. Regina Zona os showcasing a vocal talent of incredible wealth, so much so that even if she hadn't done her audience the honor of composing a delightful script that shares her personal story, even if she had gone the Recital Route and stood on stage and sung for sixty minutes, this would be a show worth seeing. Instead, she chose a more difficult path, one in which she opens herself up and shares her core being with her patrons of the art, and that is what puts her over the top in their hearts. Listening to a great singer is always a joy and pleasure, but getting to know them during their hour-long set is a memory in the making.
And people aren't going to forget Regina Zona any time soon.
Find Regina Zona online at her website
Jonathan K. Parks
Photos by Stephen Mosher