BWW Review: With DECLASSIFIED, Storm Large, Hudson Shad, and the National Symphony Go a Little Out of the Box
The first clue that I wouldn't be attending your average National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) concert was the Carnivalesque show being performed outside the Kennedy Center Concert Hall as pre-show entertainment for ticketed patrons (I was told there was also a photo booth/fortune-teller upstairs). A diverse crowd of young and old alike took it all in with drinks in hand. An evening of entertainment entitled DECLASSIFIED was certainly just that. Comprised of three major musical selections or groupings - Richard Rodgers' "Carousel Waltz;" Brecht and Weill's THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS, featuring vocals by Pink Martini's eclectic songstress Storm Large and the Hudson Shad vocal quartet; and a series of original and well-known cabaret songs that Storm selected herself - the concert was unlike many others I have attended at the Kennedy Center. A little bit of this and that, a little bit zany and off-kilter, there was something for everyone to enjoy. After the concert, patrons could enjoy a bit of karaoke where - as indicated by the sounds I heard as I was leaving - anyone and everyone could take a stab at singing some well-known and beloved pop rock tunes.
"Carousel Waltz," especially as played by the NSO, never gets old for this musical theatre geek. Precise yet filled with emotion and energy, the talented musicians and their fabulous conductor James Gaffigan, got the concert off to a great start.
While I personally was not completely enraptured by THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS, it was musically satisfying. Large and Hudson Shad delivered fine vocal performances, backed by the always spectacular symphony. Equipped with a more than pleasant vocal tone, quite solid technique, and a commanding stage presence, Ms. Large did all she possibly could to interpret the story for contemporary audiences. While a seasoned stage actress might have been able to pull out some of the nuances a bit more over the course of the thirty or so minutes, there's no question that she was vocally on point and had the personality to make it work. The delightful harmonies of Hudson Shad enriched the performance even more. Wilbur Pauley's (bass) exquisitely full and rich vocals were decidedly an asset in filling out the harmonies, and props must be given to him for taking on some of the other roles necessary to tell the story.
Backed by her own band (Le Bonheur), the NSO, and Hudson Shad, Large shined the most in the latter third of the program. Performing selections from the great American Songbook, her own original material, and a few others to remember artists of the past - Queen's anthem-like "Somebody to Love," for instance, closed the show and featured a bit of an audience singalong - Large's quirky personality and passion for performing shined through as she sang and played the tambourine.
Her rendition of Cole Porter's "Under My Skin" was distinct from any other rendition I've heard. Her modern take on the song highlighted the subversive lyrics, and took a few unique chances melodically. For me, it worked. Porter's "It's Alright With Me" has been sung by many of America's most well-known vocalists, but it seems to never get tiresome. Large's take on this number was a bit more in the traditional vein than "Under My Skin," but it showcased her powerful vocals and wonderful attention to the lyrics. With Large, lyrics clearly aren't something she just throws away in favor of vocal power, and that makes her stand apart from many of her contemporaries.
Large, however, was clearly most at home delivering her well-written original material. "Angels in Gas Stations," which she said was written after someone close to her passed on, demonstrated her attention to detail when crafting a song (both musically and lyrically), and some tender vocals that were perfect for the song's mood. Large's "Stand Up For Me," an anthem for marriage equality, was just as strongly written, and Large delivered it equally well.
Kudos to all of the musicians onstage - and the Kennedy Center - for delivering a unique evening of quality entertainment that could be enjoyed even by those that may not frequently attend Kennedy Center performances. It embodied the "Arts for All" objective.
DECLASSIFIED was performed on Friday, April 29 at the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts - 2700 F Street, NW in Washington, DC. For further information about future NSO concerts, consult the NSO website: http://www.kennedy-center.org/nso/index. Tickets can be purchased online, at the box office, or by calling 1-800-444-1324/202-467-4600.