They say revenge is best served cold, but tonight’s performance at the Signature Theater has proven that revenge is, in fact, most effectively served via a strong dose of Broadway balladry and a generous portion of musical sass.Signature Theater’s final performance of their Sizzlin’ Summer Cabaret series, aptly titled Revenge of the Understudies, featured singing from eleven understudies from various Signature performances, including Dreamgirls, Company, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Shakespeare’s R&J and others.
With the underlying collective theme of bemoaning the ill (but sometimes relieving) fortune of rehearsing rigorously and then not going on to perform, the collection of talented understudies enjoyed their well-deserved slice of limelight tonight by singing personally chosen solo and duet pieces from classic musicals and pop artists.A simple stage setup of two bar stools and two microphones paired nicely with the intimate setting and warm orange lighting of the cabaret theater, and allowed the singers to move seamlessly between pieces in a musical chairs-like rotation.
The evening started off with the exquisitely dressed Lauren Du Pree, an understudy from Dreamgirls, belting “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now” from Ain’t Misbehavin’, an ideal selection to show off her sultry, full-bodied voice while still giving the impression of an intimate connection with the audience.Company’s Amy Conley followed with a complete 360-degree change of style. Amy approached the microphone apprehensively, confessing to the audience with no small trepidation that she was a self-proclaimed “Sondhead,” which she helpfully explained was an obsessor of the great Steven Sondheim and his work. Appropriately, she moved artfully into a fast, funny, and humorously exasperated rendition of a parody of “Another 100 Years” (“Another 100 Lyrics Just Flew Out of My Head”) from Sondheim’s Company.
Next, Dreamgirls’ Michael Mainwaring opened his performance by balefully stating he was one of the more successful understudies, having performed on stage for 30 minutes before being unfortunately switched out halfway through the dance ensemble in the first act. He proceeded to croon an intimate and bluesy rendition of John Bucchino’s “What You Need” from It’s Only Life, his mellow and emotion-laden voice, wide vibrato, and impressive upper range falsetto wowing the audience in one of the best performances of the night.
By far my personal favorite performance of the evening was the duet that followed – Angela Miller and Nadia Harika taking the stage together to sing “In His Eyes” from the musical Jekyll & Hyde. I saw Jekyll & Hyde in college when it came to our local performing arts center – though the plot of the show itself was a little too over-dramatized for my taste, “In His Eyes” was one of my favorite songs from the production and I was excited to recognize it. The passion and strength of the song – and of the two ladies’ voices – contrasted nicely with the intimate and light performances that had preceded it. Bathed in blue and green lighting that embodied the eeriness of the origin musical, Miller and Harika belted out their proclamations of love of main character Dr. Jekyll, their voices of equal strength and timbre blending nicely in harmonization.
Mick Tinder comically while regaling the audience about his understudy woes of having prepared for three musicals and over seven parts before finally getting stage time. He sweetly dedicated his song to a “Patricia” during a throwback rendition of “Younger than Springtime” from South Pacific, reminiscent of 40s era classics.
Nadia Harika returned to the stage to sing a emotionally powerful rendition of “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad” from Frank Wildhorn’s Bonnie & Clyde. Louis Feemster of Dreamgirls followed with a clean baritone piece from Elvis Costello’s Juliet Letters, and Jamie Ogden and Steven Russell Murray took the stage to sing the eager, hopeful and cheery pieces “The Beauty Is” from The Light in the Piazza and “Out There” from the The Hunchback of Notre Dame, respectively. Murray took the stage again with Michael Mainwaring to sing the soulfully longing “Lily’s Eyes” from Secret Garden, an impressive performance that belied the fact that the duo had learned the piece the day of.
The talented Daphne Epps sang two of the more notable songs of the latter half of the show – a solo Whitney Houston “I Have Nothing,” and a duet with Lauren Du Pree from Dreamgirls – giving us a “glimpse of what went on during rehearsal”. Epps showed a powerful stage presence in both, showing her ability to go from tender romantic homage to light and playful shoving with her duet companion.
The final performance of the night was a return of Angela Miller in a sultry rendition of “Turn Back Old Man” from Godspell. Incorporating the audience in a rowdy chorus of “Forswear thy foolish ways!” Angela, embodying sexy and devilish allure, weaved her way through the front audience tables taking full advantage of the intimate cabaret stage setup the way it is supposed to be used – a perfect ending to the night’s collection of songs.
Revenge of the Understudies is a fan favorite of the Sizzlin’ Summer Cabarets series, and rightfully so – incorporating over 14 performances with over 10 understudy singers, the show is refreshing in its inclusion of comical, powerful, intimate, and passionate songs showcasing a wide variety of voice types and an altogether amazing group of talent.
A wonderful end to Signature’s Sizzlin’ Summer Cabarets series and an influential leadup to their Autumn Cabaret Festival – here’s to showcasing understudy talent everywhere.
Running Time: Approximately one hour, with no intermission.
Revenge of the Understudies played on Saturday, August 17, 2013 at Signature Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, VA. For inquiries about tickets to Signature’s Autumn Cabaret Festival, call the box office at (703) 820-9771, or visit their website.