‘Erin Driscoll: Get Happy! The Songs of Harold Arlen’ at Signature Theatre by Kim Moeller

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I spent a wonderful evening last night going back in time at Signature Theatre’s ‘Sizzlin’ Summer Cabaret’s’ Erin Driscoll: Get Happy! The Songs of Harold Arlen.

It wasn’t just the music of Harold Arlen from the 1930s and 40s and 50s, songs like “Get Happy,” “I’ve Got the World on a String,” and “Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive.” It wasn’t just the voice of the Helen Hayes Award-winning Erin Driscoll that harkened back to the lilting sounds of the ingénues of the past. It wasn’t just the intimate venue of Signature Theatre’s Ark Theatre. It was a combination of all those things – and more – that made me feel as if I was back in the 1950s sitting in Erin Driscoll’s living room with a group of her friends – and having a grand time while she told stories and sang songs written by her friend ‘Harold,’ as she liked to call him.

Erin Driscoll. Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre.

While many people may be unfamiliar with the name Harold Arlen, he has been called one of the greatest American composers of the 20th Century. His score for the 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz included “Over the Rainbow,” voted the twentieth century’s number one song by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts. Ms. Driscoll made us wait until the closing number to hear her rendition of the Academy Award-winning song but it was worth the wait. She gave it a quiet, wistful interpretation that was both familiar and fresh.

Throughout the sold-out program, Driscoll – or Erin as I like to call her – was relaxed and thoroughly enjoyed herself. She was fun and fabulous in her delivery of “Let’s Fall in Love,” “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” and “Get Happy.” Her eyes twinkled and she engaged the audience without ever spoiling the connection with overly-rehearsed patter and unnecessary gestures. Although I enjoyed her interpretations of some of the “less happy” selections like “The Man that Got Away” and “Stormy Weather,” I never felt she had experienced the story of the song; maybe I just wanted a little more grit in her voice.

Making it an evening of Erin and friends, Signature favorite Tracy Lynn Olivera gave a scorching solo performance of Arlen’s “Blues in the Night.” As Erin said, she wanted the song in the show but just didn’t have the right range to do the song justice. Erin also brought another friend (or family member as it were) on stage. Signature’s Associate Artistic Director (and Erin’s brother-in-law) Matthew Gardiner joined her for a joy-filled duet of “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.” Gabriel Mangiante accompanied Erin on the piano and a fabulous bassist (whose name was unfortunately not listed in the program) added just the right touch of jazz.

It was delightfully entertaining evening with interesting stories, great songs and a talented singer. One can see why she Erin is a favorite at Signature. I am looking forward to seeing her in the role as Angel in Signature’s upcoming production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

Erin Driscoll: Get Happy! The Songs of Harold Arlen was a one-night only performance on July 25, 2012 at Signature Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, VA. Purchase tickets for the remainder of Signature’s ‘Sizzlin’ Summer Cabaret’ series here, or call the box office at (703) 820-9771.

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A review of Erin Driscoll in The Pirates of Penzance, currently playing through this weekend at Encore Stage and Studio.