BWW Reviews: Young Singers Peddie, Dirksen, Block and Lowe Are No Longer Waiting to Join the Shining New Lights of Cabaret
Every year, despite a litany of warnings they come to the Big Apple with big dreams. Warnings like: "You have to pay your dues." "It's a tough business, kid." "How are you going to survive?" There's no such thing as an overnight success, yet still they come to be at "the top of the heap," as Kander and Ebb so eloquently put it. The four young performers featured here haven't yet vaulted to the top of the cabaret heap, but they've certainly made their marks with excellent shows during 2014, while exhibiting the potential to get there. The spotlight is already shining on them.
Chrysten Peddie, Too Damn Tall, Metropolitan Room, September 28th, 2014
When a classic beauty like Chrysten Peddie (photo, top) steps to the stage you just can't help but notice that she is a very tall girl. In fact, according to her, "Too Damn Tall." In Peddie's charming Metropolitan Room debut, this Top 10 MetroStar Talent Competition Finalist sings of the misfortunes of being a tall girl in love, in life, and during a career spanning 10 years in New York. Starting off with Sondheim's vocally intense "Everybody Says Don't," (from the musical Subways Are for Sleeping), Peddie quickly displays her strong resolve ("I'm tall and I'm proud, dammit") by breaking all the rules to make it in "the city that doesn't sleep." Displaying great comic timing and killer vocals with "I'm The Greatest Star" (Jules Styne/Bob Merrill from the musical Funny Girl), Peddie wins you over with her onstage charm and intelligence. With an arched eyebrow to compliment a sarcastic sense of humor, she tells her personal story of every struggling NY actor trying to pound out a living while pursuing the dream singing Frank Loesser's "Ooh! My Feet," from the musical Most Happy Fella.
Since many of her set's songs are from the musical theatre (such as Stephen Sondheim's "Move On" from the musical Sunday In the Park with George, Cy Coleman/David Zippel's "What You Don't Know About Women" from City of Angels), and Mark Blitzstein's "I Wish It So" from the musical Juno), you start believing that Peddie may be just a one-genre pony (she was trained in musical theatre at NYU's Steinhardt School) until she absolutely blows you away by pulling out all the stops (and giving Aretha Franklin a run for her money) on "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" (Mick Jagger/Keith Richards). Peddie comically works it all out on this one, expressing her frustrations with love, career, and life in general. However, the show's grumbling point of view turns quickly hopeful when the right "tall guy" appears on the scene, and Peddie melts us with a heartfelt, joyful rendition of "The Music That Makes Me Dance" (Jules Styne/Bob Merrill from the musical Funny Girl). Yes, life is sweet when you're in love and moving toward a future together and singing "Set Those Sails" (William Finn, from the musical In Trousers). Musical Director and pianist Jeff Cubeta offered up sensitive arrangements and steady accompaniment, all supporting Peddie's skilled acting and dynamic vocal power. It's no surprise Peddie was added to the cast of Gone Too Soon: A Tribute to Whitney Houston on December 15th at 9:30 PM at The Metropolitan Room.
Angela Dirksen, Imperfect, The Duplex, October 27, 2014
When the zaftig Angela Dirksen boldly bursts onto The Duplex stage belting out "Gorgeous" (Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick), wearing a flame red dress and stroking a feather boa you pay attention. In her recent three show run, Dirksen explores the perks and pitfalls of living in the age of "self-improvement." From the beginning of her show, she puts it right out there for you (with perfect comic timing) by asking, "Does God love little fat girls, too?" ("Little Fat Girls" from the 1982 James Quinn/Alaric Jans musical Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? Based on the John R. Powers book). We quickly come to the conclusion that yes he or she does, especially if the girl is Angela Dirksen.
Dirksen takes us on the emotional rollercoaster-ride-of-youth, effortlessly moving from the pain of childhood to the pangs of adolescence. First singing "That's What It Means to Be a Friend" (Jason Robert Brown from 13), then moving into a jaunty and hopeful rendition of "Perfect" (Mark E. Nevin, from his hit album The First of a Million Kisses), and following with the heart wrenching "Almost Lover" (Alison Sudol), where Dirksen becomes so distraught over an apparent past breakup she nearly stops the show in tears. That might have been too much, as it's best to let the audience do the crying, but one must applaud her willingness to so completely connect emotionally to the material on stage. Regaining her composure with a wink, Dirksen comes back with a hilarious, beat-box arrangement of "Title" (Meghan Trainor/Kevin Kadish).
The show's other highlights included a mash up of "Reflections/Who Will Love Me As I am?" (Matthew Wilder and David Zippel/Henry Krieger and Bill Russell), the perfect comic conclusions of "Imperfect is the New Perfect" (Caitlin Crosby), and "Bigger Is Better" (Dick Gallagher/Mark Waldrop), were all enhanced by the terrific musical arrangements of the show's Musical Director and pianist, Kevin White. Kudos to Kevin Hoffman's offering up droll comic play on the guitar. Brilliantly directed by Rob Langeder, Imperfect is a wonderful life-affirming show that should tour all high schools as a reminder to our youth that-- like Angela Dirksen-perfection comes in all shapes and sizes.
Rembert (Remy) Block, On a Lonely Road . . . Travelin' With Joni, Don't Tell Mama, November 15, 2014
You have to give credit to any performer that tackles the music catalogue of the iconic Joni Mitchell. In her new solo show, On a Lonely Road . . . Travelin' with Joni, Remy Block cleverly used the discography of Mitchell to support her wonderfully written autobiographical narrative towards "the pursuit of artistic and spiritual awakening." Starting from her youthful beginnings in Dallas in the 1970's, she opened with "Urge for Going" (from the album Original Hits), then ventured to the pothead college years she spent in Boulder, Colorado ("Help Me" from Court and Spark), then told of a stormy artistic relationship in Austin, Texas ("All I Want" from Blue), then on to Canada, and the hauntingly beautiful "A Case of You" (also from Blue), before a fascinating recounting of her transformative journey to India, where she studied the poetry of Mirabai while striving to perfect transcendental meditation ("Sweet Bird" from Hissing of Summer Lawns) and "Black Crow" (from Hejira).,You begin to wonder how this woman has the time to breath let alone perform this wonderful cabaret show at Don't Tell Mama.
Dressed in a sparkling, silver-gray sequin jacket and with only her excellent Musical Director and pianist, Gregory Toroian to guide her on stage, this striking blond took the audience on a sort of "journey of the mind," weaving Mitchell's magnificent lyrics and melody lines with her own hypnotic storytelling skills. The results were often mesmerizing. Whether comically lounging upside down on the piano or standing motionless center stage, Block vocally handled Mitchell's melodious lyrical lines with ease and never sounded forced. The only misstep was not playing more directly to the audience and at times she appeared to kind of "zone out."
On A Lonely Road . . . Travelin' with Joni is very close in spirit to a one-woman performance piece thanks to the excellent artistic eye of its director, Raquel Cion, an experienced stage director. Under Cion's skillful direction, with some adjustments Block's show could continue to play in cabaret clubs or move to a small intimate theatre venue. Kudos should also go to Derek Garcia on lights and sound for beautifully illuminating Block's on stage "magical mystery tour". Perhaps, adding percussion and a bass to Toroian's lush piano arrangements might further enhance the mysticism of this fun, fascinating show.
Kristoffer Lowe, Waiting For the Light To Shine, Don't Tell Mama, November 14, 2014
Every once in a while you come across an artist that possesses the natural ability to so completely interpret a theatrical time in history (by capturing the very essence of that period in song) you feel almost transported. That period would be the Great Depression era of the 1920s into the 30s, and that talent would be Kristoffer Lowe. In his riveting cabaret debut show, Waiting for the Light to Shine, Lowe astutely selects music that compliments his classic Americana good looks, and wholesome Alabama boy persona to trace his personal journey in life as the actor and as the man.
Opening with a bouncy, carefree "Ridin' High" (Cole Porter, from the 1936 musical Red, Hot and Blue), Lowe verbally interjects a sort of actor's neurotic stream-of-consciousness as he attempts his first solo flight into the world of cabaret. This self-depreciating sense of humor comes unexpectedly and wins the audience over from the get-go. An accomplished classically trained tenor, Lowe excels vocally in "Comes Love" (music by Sam Stept, lyrics by Lew Brown and Charlie Tobias, a 1939 jazz standard from the Broadway musical Yokel Boy), and yet shows a playful, silly side singing "Talk Doggie To Me" (music by Ray Henderson and lyrics by Jack Yellen/Irving Caesar from the 1934 film George Whites Scandals), and "Never Swat A Fly" (music by Ray Henderson, lyrics by Lew Brown, B.G. DeSylva from the 1930 film Just Imagine.) All that was missing was the ukulele.
Lowe has an exquisite vocal instrument that soars high and clear. Whether crooning softly during the lush "Unexpressed" (John Buccino), or showing great emotional acting chops in the Will Rogers Follies great depression era musical selection "Look Around" (music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Betty Comden/Adolf Green), it is little wonder Lowe won the 2014 MetroStar Talent competition. His training and years of experience have served him well. Further showing off a gift for writing he offers up a fun parody of Billy Joel's "She's Got A Way," comically referring to every New York actor's best friend-their therapist. Expressing feelings of stagnation in his life, Lowe offers up a brilliant mash up of "Move On" (Stephen Sondheim), and "Funkytown" (Steven Greenberg, who wrote the song in 1979 for his Minneapolis band, Lips, Inc., expressing their desire to move to New York City). Then it's on to more craziness with a surprise funky beat version of "Never Never Land" (Jules Styne and Comden/Green from the musical Peter Pan), suggesting that in life one never can or never should grow up. It all works.
Toward the end of the show we learn that Lowe is a single gay man and he expresses his loneliness in another great mash up of "I Had Myself a True Love" with "Skylark" (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer). This wonderful arrangement (as all the arrangements in this set) by musical director and pianist Carl Danielsen beautifully compliments Lowe's melancholy lingering rhapsody for love. The flip side of all that wistful yearning is the old 1935 Ethel Waters, bawdy-blues classic "Handyman" (Andy Razaf/Eubie Blake), where Lowe squeezes out every gay sexual innuendo possible to the absolute delight of the audience, but then concludes on a more serious note with the quietly contemplative "But Beautiful" (James Van Heusen/Johnny Burke). Guided by the masterful direction of Lennie Watts, this show is beautifully written, constructed, and tailored to the multi-talented Lowe who has hung in there (for some 16 years), plying his trade, pursuing his dreams, and honing his craft. His show's title serves as a thoughtful reminder to us all that a career-like a life-requires a whole lot of faith.
I have lived in the darkness for so long
I am waitin' for the light to shine
Far beyond horizons I have seen
Beyond the things I've been
Beyond the dreams I've dreamed
Are the things I've done
In fact each and every one
Are the way that I have taught to run
I am waitin' for the light to shine.
--Roger Miller, from the 1985 Musical Big River