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Cabaret Review: ‘What I See’ – Natascia Diaz at Signature Theatre by Jennifer Perry

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Natascia Diaz has several NYC/Broadway credits and has been a mainstay in the DC theatre scene for nearly an entire decade. Given her well-established musical theatre pedigree, I arrived at Signature Theatre, where she is performing a 2-night engagement of her cabaret What I See, expecting, perhaps, a few pop-rock numbers not written for the stage (given her strong rock-belt voice) and a plethora of showtunes. To her credit, Ms. Diaz resisted the temptation to retread songs long-time musical theatre devotees have heard her do on stage or on cast recordings. Instead, Signature audiences were introduced to Natascia’s versatility as a performer, and interestingly enough, exposed to two other artists who she graciously allowed to share her spotlight- NYC-based singer/songwriter/actor (and long-time friend/music collaborator) Michael Pemberton (Music Director/Guitarist) and newcomer singer/songwriter Nathan Williams.

Natascia Diaz. Photo courtesy of BroadwayWorld.

The young Williams provided a 2-song opening set of haunting original music (the kind you’d likely hear on the alternative rock radio today) and accompanied Diaz on guitar on more than several of the songs she performed. His 2-song set showed remarkable lyrical sensibility, which defied his young age. I think it’s safe to say that he has a promising music career ahead of him.

Ms. Diaz highlighted several of Michael Pemberton’s original tunes in her 90-minute act. By far, her rendition of Pemberton’s Irish-influenced “Spin” was the highlight of the night with “Cold Bound Train” being a close second. Diaz’s self-professed love for both of these songs shined through in her emotion-filled, intense performances, which were quite extraordinary from a vocal perspective. Diaz proved with these two songs that she is not only a technically great singer, but also very well adept at song interpretation. Pemberton’s lyrics and music are both intricate and catchy. Diaz handled both aspects with considerable ease.

As a self-labeled musical theatre junkie, particularly contemporary musical theatre, I was quite enamored by the fact that Ms. Diaz chose to include Paul Scott Goodman’s “Happy Birthday Darling,” from the not-often heard/seen Bright Lights, Big City, in her setlist. Diaz has a history of performing Mr. Goodman’s songs (and won the 2009 Helen Hayes Award for her mesmerizing portrayal of Monica P. Miller in MetroStage’s production of Rooms: A Rock Romance prior to its Off-Broadway run), so I appreciated that she took on this lesser-known one. Her intense performance of the material – a song about a mother expressing her love for her son who has now grown up – won’t soon be forgotten. Another song from the contemporary American musical theatre cannon also proved memorable. Natascia fondly recalled her experience in taking part in the Broadway production of Ahrens and Flaherty’s Seussical and then took on “Solla Sollew” a sweet song from that show that’s usually performed by Horton the Elephant. I’ve not heard this song sung out of context before and I must say it worked beautifully. It was clear Ms. Diaz connected with the lyrics and the song’s intent.

Backed by a bass, a cello, drums, an acoustic and electric guitar, and piano (the talented instrumentalists all deserve major kudos for playing the diverse set), Ms. Diaz freely shared her free-spirit with the appreciative Signature audience. It’s clear she has the heart and soul of an artist and that a cabaret platform is tailor made for her. I personally would have liked the evening to be a little bit more structured, but overall she proved that she is more than a musical theatre actress, but is also a highly capable and engaging solo performer.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

Natascia Diaz’s cabaret act, What I See was presented at Signature Theatre – 4200 Cambell Avenue in Arlington, VA – on July 18-19, 2012 as part of its ‘Sizzlin’ Summer Cabaret’ series. For tickets to and further information on the other cabarets in this series, call the Signature Theatre box office at (703) 820-9771 or purchase them online.

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