Two Cabarets at Creative Cauldron: ‘The Perfect Storm’ and ‘Ca-Bro-Ret’

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Creative Cauldron Bubbled Over with Summer Cabarets

The Perfect Storm

Creative Cauldron is an intimate theatre in Falls Church, Virginia that was created in 2002, and for the last five years, has been located in ArtSpace Falls Church. The theatre staff are determined to make the performing and visual arts available and affordable to a public of all ages. It has bubbled over with six original cabarets this summer. I had the pleasure of enjoying the last two.

Last Friday and Saturday nights, The Perfect Storm presented the marvelously talented trio of Helen Hayes Award Winner Priscilla Cuellar, Felicia Curry and Rachel Zampelli, accompanied by pianist TJ Witcher. These splendid singers are no strangers to those who frequent D.C.-area theatres and have graced the stages at Signature, Studio, Ford’s, Olney, and Adventure Theatre-MTC, among many others.

R: TJ Witcher, pianist, with 'Perfect Storm' cabaret singers Felicia Curry, Rachel Zampelli and Priscilla Cuellar at Creative Cauldron on August 23. Photo courtesy of Diane Carroad

R to L: TJ Witcher, pianist, with ‘Perfect Storm’ singers Felicia Curry, Rachel Zampelli, and Priscilla Cuellar. Photo by Diane Carroad.

The premise of A Perfect Storm was that certain iconic musical theatre and film songs bring together the right singer(s) with just the right songwriter(s) to develop or redevelop a successful, soul-stirring creation. Rachel Zampelli, who served as the cabaret’s personable, enthusiastic and often comedic host, also explained that the women decided to focus on songs that involved many collaborators and others who made the music memorable.

On a set with a backdrop of trees and often a glowing moon, they entered holding electric candles and unaided by mics, joined together with a sultry, high-energy techno-rap, trap-pop version of “Dark Horse” popularized by Katy Perry with rapper Juicy J who redeveloped the lyrics with a guest verse by the rapper. Originally, inspired by a 1996 film, The Craft, Ms. Perry and singer-songwriter Sarah Hudson wrote the words. The song asks:

“Are you ready for, ready for
A perfect storm, perfect storm
Cause once you’re mine, once you’re mine
There’s no going back…”

These gals kept their promise.

Rachel Zampelli, in tight jeans and black tank top, then wowed the audience with a poignant and crystal-clear rendition of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “Maybe This Time” from the show, Cabaret. Felicia Curry, in a light top, dark skirt and vest, then showed off her larger-than-life talent and seductive, smoky voice with “When You’re Good to Mama” from Chicago, another Kander and Ebb collaboration.

The mood quickly changed when the trio belted out “Little Shop of Horrors” from the horror-rock comedy musical of the same name by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman which has been sung by many in theatre and film.

With perfect timing, pitch and humor and wearing a boldly colored dress, Priscilla Cuellar, who had appeared previously at Creative Cauldron’s Nevermore, followed up with a passionate rendition of “Diva’s Lament” from Spamalot.

Ms. Cuellar ensured that the appreciative audience continued to hear her lovely and powerfully precise songs in other collaborations like “Breakaway” – a duet with Ms. Zampelli, her solo of “In Short,” and in the finales.

After performing as Celie in Richmond’s Virginia Repertory Theatre’s production of The Color Purple, Felicia Curry delivered an impeccable and dramatic “I’m Here” from that show which brought some to tears – music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray. “I Will Always Love You” demonstrated Ms. Curry’s range and impressive ability to hold a note and keep the audience spell-bound. Viewers guessed correctly that this song was made famous by its writer, Dolly Parton, who sang it in the film, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. (Linda Ronstadt recorded it on her 1975 album, Prisoner in Disguise, and Whitney Houston performed it in The Bodyguard.)

Rachel Zampelli added a witty audience-participation act to the cabaret by having the singer-actresses recite lines from songs where the collaboration clearly did NOT work. She called this segment “Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen” and asked viewers for comical titles of the efforts to portray these duds.

The final rousing encore numbers by the trio were “Look At Me” from The Witches of Eastwick and “Let Me Be Your Star.” The former’s lyricist was John Dempsey and composer was Dana Rowe. The last number was an original song created for TV’s Smash about Marilyn Monroe and was composed by Marc Shaiman with lyrics by Scott Wittman.

The trio of women formed a seamless ensemble with new-to-DC pianist Witcher, sharing comments and delivering crowd-pleasing numbers that reinforced the cabaret’s theme. Thanks to this highly skilled and amiable group, the audience enjoyed a wonderful evening while listening to and learning about collaborative musical pieces that spanned many styles.

Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes without intermission.

The Perfect Storm had two performances on August 22 and 23, 2014 at Creative Cauldron – 410 South Maple Avenue, in Falls Church, VA.

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Ca-Bro-Ret

The previous Friday and Saturday, August 15 and 16, 2014, at Creative Cauldron, Stephen Gregory Smith and Chris Sizemore, regulars at Arlington’s Signature Theatre and appearing frequently elsewhere, offered a delightfully entertaining and varied cabaret entitled Ca-Bro-Ret with the talented Steve Przybylski at piano. The theme was about friends who were like brothers, childhood, memories, and togetherness.

Chris Sizemore and Stephen Gregory Smith (the "brothers") in ', Ca-Bro-Ret.' Photo by Diane Carroad.

Chris Sizemore and Stephen Gregory Smith (the “brothers”) in ‘, Ca-Bro-Ret.’ Photo by Diane Carroad.

To set the casual mood from the start, on Friday, Smith was sporting a black and white sleeveless apocalypse-style “walking dead” tank shirt that read “Keep Calm and Kill Zombies” and khaki shorts while Sizemore had donned a red T-shirt, shorts and snazzy hat. Behind them was an ESPN banner to emphasize that this was a bro-oriented cabaret. A red sculptured head from Signature Theatre’s Miss Saigon was prominently placed on the stage. As these two “brothers” sang and interacted, Chris Sizemore often sat in a large, comfortable chair while Stephen Gregory Smith tended to use the steps or stood on the stage.

The two men introduced their cabaret with the duet, “Cause I’m a Guy” from I Love You,You’re Perfect, Now Change, a musical comedy with lyrics by Joe DiPietro and music by Jimmy Roberts. Despite the very informal setting and atmosphere, it was obvious to those who had never heard these actors sing that they were accomplished and talented. Chris Sizemore seemed to project effortlessly with total naturalness – again, no mics were used. In this particular cabaret, Stephen Gregory Smith played the graver, responsible one whose rich emotion and dramatic background were evident in the songs he chose.

They followed this duet with another featuring “I Can Go the Distance” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame composed by Alan Menken and written by Stephen Schwartz. This serious number solidified that these two singers were exactly where they were meant to be and that their message was about support.

Turning to a newer playwright and composer who would reappear, Mr. Smith’s version of “Player Number 2” from Good Enough for Now: The Music of Drew Fornarola, was heartfelt and moving although also contained humor as he compared himself to his number one brother. Maintaining a solemn mood, Chris Sizemore then sang an inspiring rendition of Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis” from that artist’s self-titled album about his feelings of religion and acceptance of others despite their beliefs. This led to a strong duet of the ballad, “Northbound Train” from the musical, The Civil War, by Gregory Boyd and Frank Wildhorn, with lyrics by Jack Murphy and composed by Wildhorn.

Up to this point, the audience understood the importance of brotherhood by the song selections and style. There were moments of theatrical exasperation as Stephen Gregory Smith portrayed the one judging Chris Sizemore’s devil-may-care attitude with his focus on his cell phone and call to order pizza, especially while the former was performing.

The mood shifted during another Fornarola number, “Song of the Drowning Bro”, which focuses on caring for the important facets of life but starts with a comical dueling dialogue of “Dude”, “Man” and “Bro” terms. The night that I attended, before Mr. Smith delved into the song’s message, Mr. Sizemore walked off the stage and returned with boxes of pizza. He explained this was similar to the moment during the Oscars when Ellen DeGeneres shared pizza with the audience – and he proceeded to do likewise, including taking a selfie as she did with those who joined him. This comical bit was a big hit; I understand that the next night’s mayhem included the arrival of an actual pizza delivery man and the falling of the ESPN banner.

Chris Sizemore and pianist Steve Przybylski At Ca-Bro-Ret. Photo by Diane Carroad.

Chris Sizemore and pianist Steve Przybylski At Ca-Bro-Ret. Photo by Diane Carroad.

The fun over, the two men beautifully dove into the ballad sung by the rock band, Extreme, called “More than Words” which conveys that saying “I love you” is not always sufficient as the phrase is often overused. After Mr. Smith sensitively sang a third Fornarola number about brothers who are “Eight and Five,” Mr. Sizemore demonstrated his range by delivering an impassioned version of “As Good as You” from the musical drama, Jane Eyre by composer-lyricist Paul Gordon.

Two well-chosen songs by Stephen Sondheim followed – “It Would Have Been Wonderful” and “Everybody Says Don’t”.

Chris Sizemore’s “Music of My Soul” from Memphis showed off his acting chops and it was clear this song has significance to him. After all, he is raising money now to produce a CD by that title and undoubtedly will sing it at the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church in Huntington, W. Virginia over Labor Day week-end on Sunday.

After a harmonious duet of Billy Joel’s “Lullaby,” Messrs. Smith and Sizemore hit all the difficult notes with ease in “Lilly’s Eyes” from The Secret Garden composed by Lucy Simon with lyrics by Marsha Norman. The final number was fitting and haunting as the two brothers gave due justice to Les Miserables’ “Bring Him Home.”

Creative Cauldron’s new season will soon begin with talks and theatre productions. Stephen Gregory Smith and Matt Conner, a composer and pianist often at Signature Theatre, are teaching artists and commissioned writers. They are now working on Turn of the Screw, a world premiere musical adapted from Henry James’ novella, to open in January 2015.

Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes without intermission.

Ca-Bro-Ret had two performances on August 15-16, 2014 at Creative Cauldron – 410 South Maple Avenue, in Falls Church, VA.

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To learn more about Creative Cauldron’s 2014-2015 season, and to purchase tickets, go to their website.

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