Review: Patina Miller at Strathmore’s Annual Spring Gala

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Patina Miller’s luminous stage presence added snap, sizzle and pop from the best of American musical theater to Strathmore’s annual spring gala, now in its eleventh year. With “Magic To Do” in support of community arts education, Patina Miller’s dazzling benefit concert on Saturday, May 14th at the Music Center at Strathmore capped an elegant night of fun and fundraising for Strathmore’s innovative East County Initiative. Her sparkling performance was part of a festive evening of dinner and dancing to sponsor the arts. And in the words of Strathmore CEO Eliot Pfanstiehl to, “Illumine, ignite, and inspire our community” to advance the future of the arts.

Patina Miller in 'Pippin.' Photo by Joan Marcus.
Patina Miller in ‘Pippin.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

Patina Miller has been on the theatrical scene only since 2007, but at 31, she already has the hard-earned panache of a veteran performer. She’s already the toast of Broadway receiving the 2013 Tony for Best Actress in a Musical in the acclaimed revival of Pippin, and numerous other theatrical awards both at home and abroad. I saw Patina’s Broadway performance as Leading Player in Pippin (a role made famous by Ben Vereen) and I was amazed at her musicality, versatility, and athletic physicality in a role that required her to sing and dance those Bob Fosse moves at times while twirling on a trapeze high above the stage in Diane Paulus’ circus-themed remake of this 1972 award-winning musical. I knew right then that Patina Miller was an amazing young singer and actress who can literally do it all.

Her Strathmore concert showcased her ability to perform not only musical theater from the great American Songbook but also pop, rock, jazz and blues, country and gospel. She covered the gamut from love song ballads to up-tempo classics gliding between genres with youthful ease and sophisticated edge; Millennial kitsch with Earth Kitt savoire faire.

Opening with Ebb and Kander’s “Sing Happy,” Patina was true to her roots and her play list was a glorious trip down Broadway covering 17 songs from some of the best-loved in American musical theater. Her clear, resonant voice with a vocal range to take you to heaven was a true pleasure to listen to. She belted out numbers from a diverse array of musical theater’s finest including  among others, “Little Girls” from Annie , “Aquarius” and “Easy to Be Hard” from a Hair medley, “Mama Will Provide” from Once on This Island, “Don Juan” from Smokey Joe’s Café, “Fabulous Baby” from Sister Act and “Simple Joys” from Pippin.

She paid homage to American musical icons with songs by Stephen Sondheim, Leiber and Stoller and Billy Porter with George Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me” a Patina personal favorite, as one of the most stirring moments of the evening. She brings a vivacious personality and dramatic aliveness to every song and she sang yesteryear’s “Fever” and “Glory of Love” with youthful vibrancy and her own contemporary brand of passion.

Patina Miller has a way of making personal contact with an audience by sharing charming anecdotes about her life and growing up in the small town of Pageland, South Carolina. With a mother and grandmother, both ministers, who recognized and supported her talent, they encouraged Patina to sing from a very young age, beginning in the church. She sang the old-time spiritual, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” as if still singing solo in the church choir. Her powerful voice filled the cavernous space and she projects enough warmth to make a big auditorium like the Strathmore feel like an intimate nook in a cozy cabaret.

Patina was a great choice to perform at the Strathmore’s spring gala to raise awareness and funds for the East County Initiative and she talked about the importance of arts education. A community effort targeting residents in east Montgomery County, the East County Initiative is bringing artistic and education programs to neighborhoods along the Route 29 corridor. Working together with the Montgomery County Public Schools and the Montgomery County Department of Recreation, Strathmore is partnering to serve the community with arts programs to enhance the quality of life for adults and children in under-served areas. Other arts initiatives such as the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestra and Strathmore’s Children’s Chorus are also part of its efforts  to support arts education,  which the Patina Miller concert will benefit.

In finale, a chorus of Students from Levine Music and Young Artists of America joined Patina on onstage to sing the evening’s beloved signature song from Pippin, “Magic To Do.” With Fosse choreography down pat and bowler hat in hand, this terrific group of young men and women, who had participated in a workshop with Patina earlier in the day, were encouraged to follow their dreams in pursuing a career in the arts. There couldn’t have been a better role model for these kids than the phenomenally talented Patina Miller.

“God Bless the Child,” the Billie Holiday blues favorite was Patina’s encore before an enthralled house, particularly the young people whom she blessed to follow in her steps.

The GALA After-party. Photo by Malcolm Barnes.
The GALA After-Party. Photo by Malcolm Barnes.

Kudos to Strathmore for making this fabulous evening happen and to the incredibly talented Patina Miller for playing it forward to support the arts.

Running Time: 75 minutes, with no intermission.

Patina Miller performed on Saturday, May 14, 2016 at The Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. For future events at Strathmore, check their calendar of events

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Ramona Harper
Ramona Harper is a retired Foreign Service Officer (career diplomat). While in the Foreign Service, her specialization was Public Diplomacy. Her overseas postings were Senegal, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Panama and Germany where she presented American visual and performing artists on behalf of the U.S. Government. Before joining the Foreign Service, Ramona was a counselor and administrator in higher education at the community college level. Her academic work includes a Master of Science degree in Counselor Education from Florida International University and a Master of Science degree from the National Defense University’s Industrial College of the Armed Forces. Ramona is an avid theatregoer and filmgoer and is happy to be a member of the DCMetroTheaterArts writing staff.