BWW Reviews: Tony Award Winner Patina Miller Makes Concert Debut at Kennedy Center

BWW Reviews: Tony Award Winner Patina Miller Makes Concert Debut at Kennedy Center
Patina Miller, courtesy Kennedy Center.

Young Patina Miller has made a splash in New York in recent years garnering a Tony nomination for her work in Sister Act as she made her Broadway debut and then most recently a Tony win for her current work in Pippin. Given her high profile achievements and bombastic vocals, it's no wonder that she was selected to appear in Barbara Cook's Spotlight Series at the Kennedy Center.

So, what was surprising about it?

She was making her solo concert debut.

Accompanied by the exceptional musical director/pianist/arranger James Sampliner, John Benthal on guitar, Rich Mercurio on drums, and Mark Vanderpoel on bass, Patina enthusiastically shared some of the songs that she grew up singing, songs that reminded her of those who stood by her as she pursued her dreams, and several numbers that she's song on Broadway and beyond. As she performed an eclectic song list comprised of showtunes, standards, and songs from movies, she also regaled the audience with stories that demonstrated her tenacity and dedication to become a Broadway performer no matter the odds.

Her persistent and sometimes awkward emphasis on the need to 'dream big' and 'go for it' got to be a bit grating after a while - especially when she reminded the audience of this nearly every second she opened her mouth to speak. That being said, one can't help but be affected by the sheer and evident joy that she had over getting to be herself on the stage, make her concert debut at a venerable institution, and let the audience get to know her and her dreams a little better. She has an endearing quality and charm, that's for sure. It's also a fun thing to witness someone who hasn't become so accustomed to doing cabaret after cabaret that it's become old hat and not a special experience.

Whether singing songs from her favorite movies ("Glory of Love," "My Guy") or standards like "Someone to Watch Over Me" in a lovely, touching tribute to her mother, or lesser known, older showtunes like "Sing Happy," (from Flora the Red Menace), Ms. Miller commanded the stage and seemed to revel in the appreciative and eager response from the audience. Even when her infectious enthusiasm sometimes got in the way of her vocals, she never let up.

Patina proved that she's at her best with contemporary musical theatre numbers and I, for one, appreciated that she included such a diverse group of them. That's not always the case with cabarets featuring musical theatre artists with many of them taking the solo performance opportunity to show different sides of their voice and take on more mainstream music or original compositions.

So, she gets props for including things like "Little Girls" (from Annie) - a show she said helped her overcome her shyness - in the same set as Adam Guettel's "Life is But a Dream" (Myths and Hymns). While the former song let her show off her well-honed comedic chops and ability to take on larger-than-life characters, the latter one exposed her lovely instrument and impressive and lesser known ability to reign in her vocal power and deliver tender and meaningful vocals. Her rendition of Ahrens and Flaherty's "Mama Will Provide" (Once on this Island) also proved to be a highlight of the evening and made me wish for a revival of that show.

Towards the end of the evening, she featured songs that she's become known for on the Broadway stage - two from Sister Act and two from her current show, Pippin. In the Sister Act portion, she shared two of Alan Menken's songs that she enjoyed singing the most ("Sister Act" and the enormously catchy "Fabulous Baby"). Her vocal prowess and enormous stage presence was also put to good use as she took on Stephen Schwartz's "Magic to Do" and "Simple Joys," both of which she sings nightly as the Leading Player in Pippin. While "Magic to Do" was better suited for a cabaret show - I find "Simple Joys" works better in the context of the show - it's easy to see why she has received so many positive notices for her work in this show even with just two songs.

As a young, hugely talented, and spunky performer, she definitely has room to grow when the spotlight is shining solely on her, but it's wonderful to see her have the chance to tread those waters.

This concert was a one-night-only event at the Kennedy Center on December 6, 2013. For a list of other upcoming shows in Barbara Cook's Spotlight Series, consult the Kennedy Center website..

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