Just this past weekend, a sunny, very talented Bayla Whitten held the audience enthralled making her solo cabaret debut covering singer, song writer Carole King’s many hit tunes. She performed Some Kind of Wonderful: Bayla Whitten sings Carole King at three sold-out dates at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia. A Helen Hayes Award nominee for her musical theater work, Whitten has appeared on local professional theater stages throughout the DC area, including MetroStage and Signature Theatre.
Whitten has a satisfying smooth clear delivery of her vocals, and chatty, genuine, approachable presence. She is likable, not an ersatz diva to deride. She performed more than a dozen of King’s songs before an audience who may have known King’s work from their own Boomer-youth. Some were heard quietly asking one another if singing-along was permitted.
With up-tempo songs, Whitten’s work was a great pleasure. She has a charming, wanting to please style. Her light-hearted banter, with self-deprecating humor was a nice touch. Whitten also provided little stories about why a particular song mattered to her sounded real; not from a made-up script.
In a brisk performance, the songs Whitten performed traveled far back into the decades. Many were jaunty; a few more soulful. A quick list of some of the titles in no particular order: “I Feel the Earth Move,” “So Far Away,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Up on the Roof,” “You Make me Feel Like a] Natural Woman,” “It’s Too Late,” “Smackwater Jack,” as well as “Beautiful,” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”
One remark that pricked up my ears was a comment that, “Carole King was the Taylor Swift of the ’70s.” She went on, that like Swift, King wrote and sang about trying to find love, falling in love, and then having to withstand a break-up. This was a nice connection for when she may find herself singing before an audience those in their 20s and 30s with much less familiarity with King’s original work.
With Whitten was Musical Accompanist/Music Arranger Gabriel Mangiante. He is a top-notch music director with many a Signature Theatre production under his belt over recent years. Mangiante brought a confident, vigorous, colorful patina to his piano interpretations. He brought, as well, his own lively bobbing shoulder movement to the up-tempo tunes. He was fun to watch. He was no potted-plant at the keyboard.
Rather than the usual guitar or saxophone to provide emotional musical wallop, Whitten had violinist Sarah Foard. Her bow work was clean, and energetic. She brought a spirited, chipper almost “fiddle” sound to some of the faster-paced tunes. But with songs and lyrics about the pain of love lost, well wow! Her work added an affecting, poignant depth.
Emily Levey, a local chanteuse who has appeared at DC’s Keegan Theatre, was a righteous back-up singer. She added her own richness and velvety harmony to the evening. Levey also brought her own sharp, positive presence as she stood behind a standing microphone, her long hair framing her face.
This particular performance was recorded for a future CD. That may have precluded Whitten from moving about the set much or interacting more with the patrons.
So, quite an auspicious debut for Bayla Whitten with her Some Kind of Wonderful: Bayla Whitten sings Carole King. Next stop perhaps, other venues with different audiences. Certainly there are plenty of places in the area that should come knocking on her door.
Paraphrasing the lyrics of Carole King’s “Beautiful,” Whitten most definitely had a smile on her face and showed the audience all the love in her heart.
Running Time: 75 minutes, with no intermission.
Some Kind of Wonderful: Bayla Whitten Sings Carole King played on November 15-16, 2014 at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia – 8900 Little River Turnpike, in Fairfax, VA. For future cultural events, check their website.