Cabaret Review: ‘Revenge of the Understudies’ at Signature Theatre by Jennifer Perry


14 Signature Theatre understudies closed out Signature Theatre’s Summer 2012 Sizzin’ Summer Cabaret Series with Revenge of the Understudies. Presenting an interesting conglomeration of mostly showtunes from the stage and TV, these hard working and talented individuals were afforded the well-deserved opportunity to take center stage and the spotlight on their own terms. Under the guidance of Walter Ware III (Director) and the accomplished musician Howard Breitbart (Pianist/Music Director), all of the individuals demonstrated their high-quality singing gifts in a well-constructed cabaret show.

Jamie Eacker.

While the show was quite good overall, there were certainly some missteps along the way. At times, the singing from a few of the performers was a bit uneven. Likewise, some of the performers sacrificed song interpretation for sheer vocal power and some didn’t quite understand that singing in an intimate cabaret setting is different than singing in a full production in a 3,000 seat theatre.  Overall, however, the evening highlighted the fact that Signature has an immense musical theatre talent pool from which to cast its shows.

It would be difficult to highlight all of the memorable vocal performances from the evening. Madeline Botteri, Will Cooke, Cory Cunningham, Parker Drown, Jamie Eacker, Ayanna Hardy, Ashleigh King, Stephen Russell Murray, Jobari Parker-Namdar, Gannon O’Brien, Kirstin Riegler, Maria Rizzo, Paul Scanlan, and Nadine Zahr all have promising futures in musical theatre.  Five of the performers, however, shined very brightly and deserve special recognition.

Jamie Eacker stole the show for me with her passionate performance of Andrew Lippa’s “Maybe They Like It This Way” (from The Wild Party). Far from an easy song, she demonstrated her strong belt and perhaps even stronger emotional connection to the song’s lyrics. I very much hope she’s given the opportunity to be featured in a leading role in a Signature production. She has a promising future as a singer and actress.

Jobari Namdar-Parker.

Jobari Parker-Namdar took on the opening song of Jason Robert Brown’s “The Old Red Hills of Home” (from Parade) with much vigor. Singing from the unexpected point of view of a confederate soldier, he sold me on his strong voice with a more than respectable vocal range, and his song interpretation skills. Later in the show, he delivered a very funny rendition of “Adolpho” from The Drowsy Chaperone (music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison). I saw The Drowsy Chaperone in New York and I thought the song was too one-note, but Parker-Namdar made me appreciate the comedy that lies within it.

Nadine Zahr, a vocalist I was introduced to at last year’s Signature Open House, closed the show with Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich’s powerful “Love Like Breathing.” The show definitely went out with a bang given Zahr’s confident vocals and professional performance ability. Her booming voice is astounding, and one of the best in the Washington, DC region.

Madeline Botteri.

Madeline Botteri, fellow worshiper of Laura Benanti’s voice, fully committed to performing one of my favorite songs from David Yazbek’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. I had the privilege of seeing Laura Benanti take on the role of Candela and sing “Lovesick” in the Lincoln Center production. Botteri definitely did the song justice vocally (she, incidentally, possesses a similar vocal texture and tone to Ms. Benanti) and demonstrated exquisite comedic timing that I didn’t know she had. I’d like to see her take on another song from that show – “Model Behavior.”  Ms. Botteri also sang John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “My Own Space (from The Act) later in the evening. Her tender and meaningful vocals on this song were certainly memorable.

Finally (but certainly not least), Stephen Russell Murray gave an emotional performance in memory of Jane Pesci-Townsend and Marcia Gardner, two extraordinary members of the Washington, DC theatre community, who guided him during his tenure in the Signature “Overtures” musical theatre training program.  His heartfelt performance of John Bucchino’s “Not a Cloud in the Sky” was one of the most moving of the night.  Stephen also demonstrated his knack for contemporary musical theatre with Pasek and Paul’s “Along the Way” (from Edges). Benj Pasek has a way with writing lyrics that are funny yet heartwarming and purposeful.  It was clear that Mr. Russell Murray understood the larger purpose of the song’s lyrics. His song interpretation skills are first rate indeed.

Revenge of the Understudies was a great way to close out the summer season at Signature and make its always appreciative audience excited for what’s coming in the 2012-2013 season next month.

Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes with no intermission.

Revenge of the Understudies was presented as part of Signature Theatre’s Sizzlin’ Summer Cabaret Series, which ended on July 28, 2012. For tickets to future Signature productions, call the box office at (703) 820-9771, or purchase them online.

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