“This is a rock concert! There’s not going to be any of that ‘Good Morning Baltimore’ stuff tonight!”
True to her word, Helen Hayes Award-winning artist Carolyn Cole took to the stage Wednesday night in the Signature Theatre’s ARK Theatre for an evening of rock tributes and ballads that blew the roof off of one of Signature Theatre’s most intimate and treasured venues. Her performance was unlike any cabaret I have ever attended at Signature, and I loved every minute of it.
Cole is probably best known in the D.C. area for her portrayal of Tracy Turnblad in the Signature Theatre’s production of Hairspray in 2012. Her stunning portrayal earned her a Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress, Resident Musical. Cole was also seen at Signature’s recent production of Gypsy and Hello, Dolly! (Ford’s Theatre co-production).
Despite her successes in musical theatre at Signature Theatre and stages across the D.C. area, her Farewell Tour Wednesday night was more a tribute to what is apparently one of her favorite genres of music: good ol’ fashioned Rock ‘n’ Roll.
While, at the beginning of the evening, Cole tried to weave bits of storytelling in between songs like a traditional cabaret might do, she stayed true to her simplistic and straightforward style, introducing a series of several songs with no other introduction other than: “This is the love section” or “This is the church section.” She let the potent lyrics of rock music do the talking.
Her authenticity really came through in her no-frills, high-voltage presentational style. With a four-piece band with Jacob Kidder on piano, Steven Walker on guitar, Chris Chlumsky on bass, and Chris DeChiara on drums under the direction of Matt Conner, Cole’s voice is one of those rare voices that is complemented by—not detracted by—a full four-piece band and back-up singers.
Cole began with Queen’s “Let Me Entertain You” (a tease for the musical theatre lovers out there who saw her in Gypsy last month at Signature)—which demonstrated just how comfortable Cole was with this genre of music. Although I would have loved to see her do a reprise of her role of Tracy in Hairspray, there’s something special about seeing an artist in her element—and this cabaret is certainly her strong suit.
She followed this electrifying introduction with a more toned-down, acoustic piece, fittingly, “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley. While Cole belted out almost every single song throughout the evening with a sense of star-like confidence and skill, some of the best moments of the evening were when she showed off a more tender side of her voice; amazing still, but in a different light. Steven Walker’s guitar skills—a regular sound at Signature—was the perfect complement to this iconic classic.
One of the highlights of the evening for me was when she Carolyn sang Queen’s “Somebody To Love,” with Signature’s Maria Egler (Holiday Follies, Dirty Blonde, Giant, and Crossing) and Christopher Mueller (Miss Saigon and Crossing) on back-up vocals. Egler and Mueller’s voices melded well with Cole’s, creating harmonies that only the best of the best can handle. Egler and Mueller have voices that are rich enough to carry through the electrifying vibrato of Cole’s Rock ‘n’ Roll belting—together, they formed a rich texture of sounds that only live performance can create.
Another highlight was the rendition of Delta Rae’s “Bottom Of the River,” in which drummer Chris DeChiara took to playing a trashcan to create an authentic, almost gospel-like feel. Featuring a solo introduction by Egler, the piece also showcased the vocal tenacity of her back-up singers, who were on-point throughout the evening.
Signature bills the cabaret as how Cole “bids farewell to Washington DC with a rocking concert,” and this cabaret definitely delivers. Cole ended the evening with Led Zeppelin’s “Ten Years Gone,” a reflection of the time she had spent in DC and at Signature. If the next few years are anything like the past few years, we can expect great things for this D.C. theatre icon.
Running Time: Approximately one hour, with no intermission.
Carolyn Cole: The Farewell Tour plays through February 22, 2014 at Signature Theatre—4200 Campbell Avenue in Arlington, Virginia. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 820-9771, or purchase them online.
This Cabaret performance is presented part of the Winter Cabaret Festival at Signature Theatre, which runs through March 1, 2014. For tickets to remaining performances of the Winter Cabaret Festival, call (703) 820-9771, or purchase them online. Individual tickets for season subscribers only $35 or $41 for non-subscribers. You can also buy an All Access Pass for only $90 through the Box Office or by calling (703) 820-9771.