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Review: Jessica Vosk is Beguiling in Solo Cabaret Debut at OC's Segerstrom Center

A Broadway fan favorite, Vosk introduces her wickedly enchanting wit and spectacular belt to a rapt Orange County, CA audience

Let me just get this out right off the bat: Jessica Vosk's solo cabaret debut at Segerstrom Center for the Arts---which opened Thursday, November 17, 2022 and continues for two additional shows through Saturday, November 19---is, quite possibly, the most enjoyable cabaret concert I have experienced at the Center's lovely and intimate Samueli Theatre.

From the moment she surprised the audience by entering from the back of the room, right up until her final, gorgeous encore finalé, the former Wall Street financier turned Broadway star had the entire place giddy with excitement, laughing up a storm, and utterly floored by her spectacular vocal range.

A wow-inducing show filled with whip smart, laugh-out-loud humor, fun personal stories, and some of the most stunning vocal riffs I've heard sung live, Ms. Vosk's rapturous 90-minute-plus set proves in person why she has deservedly become one of the stage's favorite musical theater divas.

Her rise has been meteoric and well-documented amongst the theater-verse: she indeed got her career start on Wall Street but, as with most artists with undeniable talent, the Boards always beckoned despite her success in the financial field.

She first made her Broadway debut as a swing in Jason Robert Brown's stage adaptation of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY and, later, joined the original cast of FINDING NEVERLAND, another movie-turned-stage musical.

She was then cast as Fruma Sarah---memed by many as "Dead Elphaba"---in the 2015 Broadway Revival of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, in which she also served as an understudy for Golde, an experience she hilariously shares an anecdote about during the concert, which I won't spoil for those about to see her show in a city near you.

She soon leaves Anatevka for Emerald City, taking on the role of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West in the second national tour of WICKED. In July of 2018, she was tapped to reprise the role in the long-running Broadway production, staying there until 2019, where she further grew her rabid fandom, many of whom declaring her as one of the best "Elphabas" to ever play the role (she even got a Broadway.com Audience Choice Award for "Best Replacement" to reiterate that fact).

Last year, she realized a dream by making her triumphant solo Carnegie Hall debut to a sold out crowd (bootleg footage from the show have racked up a gazillion views online... not that I've obsessively watched them over and over again or anything).

So, obviously, when Segerstrom Center announced its 2022-2023 Cabaret series line-up and included Vosk as one of the upcoming acts, the prospect of seeing her live on the left coast proved an irresistible notion for many who've fangirled from afar. And judging by the packed, raucously appreciative crowd on Opening Night, she's going to gain a larger So Cal fanbase to add to her followers after this weekend's shows.

Review: Jessica Vosk is Beguiling in Solo Cabaret Debut at OC's Segerstrom Center
Jessica Vosk.
Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Dressed in an iridescent blue suit, Ms. Vosk entered from the back of the room like an old-school lounge singer and told the crowd "I'm back here!" to get us to look her way. She weaved through the crowd with a beaming smile and some snappy banter as she sang a bouncy "Let Me Entertain You" from GYPSY. Already, she had us mesmerized---and laughing.

One thing you'll notice right away about Ms. Vosk is that she's a natural, engaging orator, regaling us with fascinating stories that don't feel over-rehearsed or memorized---just speaking her truth at the very moment. She has an incomparable, genuine ease about her that made her show, at times, feel more like a talented best friend just giving a little impromptu performance in her living room, holding court by sharing hilarious insider stories, and then slaying with one beautifully-rendered song after another.

That friendly rapport, of course, extends to the people on stage with her. For these concerts at Segerstrom Center, she is joined onstage by her talented musical director/principal accompanist Mary Mitchell Campbell---a frequent presence behind the piano at other solo concerts that have come to Costa Mesa over the decades. Armed with a résumé that name-checks plenty of hit Broadway shows, Ms. Vosk listed off Mitchell Campbell's impressive credits like a proud mama to her musical director's adorable, blushing embarrassment.

Ms. Vosk's friendly banter is also extended to her first special guest for the evening, singer-songwriter Abigail Barlow, who recently won a Grammy Award alongside her writing partner Emily Bear for creating The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical. Later, she showers praise to her guest mini-choir made up of ecstatic high school musical theater students from the Orange County School of the Arts.

If Ms. Vosk's aim is to keep us laughing and entertained, she definitely achieves this goal. Serving as a tasty buffet of Ms. Vosk's genre-transcending vocal talents, her first solo show at Segerstrom Center is a fun mix of madcap storytelling and jaw-dropping song interpretations. She came with a memoir's worth of hilarious recollections and anecdotes that had everyone laughing for extended bursts, while her set list harvests from both theater and pop catalogs---all of which, she expresses, have influenced her own personal tastes as an artist.

She is also, funny enough, an admitted fan of cursing, a fact that has her feigning to ask the audience permission if she's allowed to utter a few throughout the evening---making her even more endearing, actually.

After finishing "Let Me Entertain You" she then declares that most of the evening's songs will pay tribute to what she calls "bad ass boss ladies," garnering loud cheers from he audience. She continues with a playful rendition of Bette Midler's Beaches version of "I Still Got My Health," written by Cole Porter, then follows up with a funny story about first meeting Jason Robert Brown, the creator of the BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY musical, while stepping in to cover the lead role as a swing in her first Broadway gig.

This story segues to Ms. Vosk's beautifully melancholy mash-up of Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me" with Brown's "Still Hurting" from his musical THE LAST FIVE YEARS, the latter she playfully describes as "therapeutic territory."

Performing in So. Cal. reminded her that one of her wishlist future projects is to record an album paying homage to the songwriters of Laurel Canyon---a collective of singer-songwriter artists that included Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Joni Mitchell, the Mamas and the Papas, Crosby, Stills, and, Nash, and Carole King, which prompts a lovely cover of King's "So Far Away."

Ms. Vosk is also a huge fan of a couple of particularly famous contemporary singer-songwriters: Taylor Swift and Sara Bareilles. First she offers up a sassy cover of Swift's "Trouble" as a soothing consolation for those who weren't able to (like her) purchase tickets to Swift's upcoming concert tour. Her reverent fandom for WAITRESS composer Bareilles is provided via a WOW-inducing performance of "What Baking Can Do" which prompted pockets of standing ovations and an apparently rare (haha) approval from Mitchell Campbell. If that wasn't a "nailed-it" audition for her to do the lead role in the musical sometime in the future, I don't know what is.

Her special guest Barlow joins her on stage next, and the ladies do an expectedly fierce duet on a cover of sister-duo Heart's high-decibel "Alone," displaying both ladies' stratospheric belting prowess. Holy crap, that was amazing!

Ms. Vosk takes a deserved yet short break by giving the stage over to Barlow for her to sing an original song, the touchingly heartbreaking "Stayed Strangers," which she confesses that she had never before performed live for an audience. Well aren't we lucky?

Ms. Vosk returns with a lovely rendition of Don Henley's "Boys of Summer" which somehow leads to some really funny stories about her time in the 2015 revival of FIDDLER, which saw her play a dead (ghost) ancestor (the aforementioned "Dead Elphaba") and also about the time she had to jump in on the second act to takeover the role of Tevye's wife, Golde. These stories lead in to a really enjoyable medley that includes "Do You Love Me" from FIDDLER, "I Don't Know How To Love Him," from JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, and "Everybody Says Don't" from ANYONE CAN WHISTLE.

Like many of her peers, Ms. Vosk also provides teaching workshops for young musical theater students, and a select few of those enthusiastic students she taught from the Orange County School of the Arts are featured as a rousing back up chorus on her cover of Adele's "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)" and Whitney Houston's buoyant "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," the latter of which is sprung on the young singers at the last minute to their shocked surprise.

"I hope you kids know the chorus to this song," she demands, hoping that this classic 80's bop is famous enough for these high school kids to know (they did know it and they sounded great).

Once Ms. Vosk announces that it's about to be her last song of the evening, the audience, understandably, moaned a bit with sadness. She made it such a wonderful evening and no one wanted the fun to end.

She ended the night with two exquisitely-sung covers. First up is Elton John's "Your Song" followed by thunderous applause and huge standing ovation. For her encore---prefaced by an amusing bit about us pretending she's walking off stage, but really she's returning---she sings an almost ASMR-tinged, gentle cover of Sting's "Fields of Gold" that is the perfect capper to an incredible concert.

Quite possibly the only odd thing about her otherwise spectacular show is the curious omission of even one song from WICKED, the show that truly (and physically) elevated her to the stratosphere---and, arguably, her biggest role to date. Perhaps this will be saved for her next show on our side of the continent. And by the wild reception she receives with her OC debut, there HAS TO BE MORE Jessica Vosk concerts and performances in the near future, fingers crossed.

** Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ **

Photos courtesy of Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

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Jessica Vosk's performances for Segerstrom Center for the Arts' 2022-2023 Cabaret Series continues through Saturday, November 19, 2022. The Series continues with Chita Rivera (December 11, 2022), the Broadway Hollywood Holiday Songbook (December 15-17, 2022), Brian Stokes Mitchell (January 6, 2023), Jane Lynch & Kate Flannery (January 19-21, 2023), Patti LuPone (February 9, 2023), Mandy Gonzales & Javier Muñoz (March 5, 2023), Liz Callaway and Ann Hampton Callaway (March 30-April 1, 2023) and Jason Robert Brown (April 27-29, 2023). Tickets can be purchased online at www.SCFTA.org, by phone at 714-556-2787 or in person at the SCFTA box office (open daily at 10 am) located at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa. For tickets or more information, visit SCFTA.org.


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