With personality galore and voices full of pizzazz and warmth, The Mason Cabaret in Concert delivered a wonderful evening of Celebrating the Great American Songbook!
Under the direction of James Gardiner and Erin Gardiner, twenty dynamite students from the George Mason University School of Theater presented nearly two dozen Broadway and pop standards that would make their composers and lyricists blissful looking down from Heaven.
The performers sang with clear, crisp voices, delightful theatrical emphasis, and personal interpretations that radiated throughout the Harris Theater on the George Mason University campus. No stand and deliver recital, the choreography was developed by Ariel Kraje (one of the student performers) and Erin Gardiner.
One of my big takeaways was the affection for songs written decades ago. The performers dove into them and found their own meanings for each lyric.
As a group, the singers were poised, in synch with gorgeous harmonies and sweet duets. Solos ranged from the jazzy to the operatic, from the cutely delivered to the sultry. Their clear diction allowed the lyrics to come through. They were enchanting with their handheld microphones which is no easy feat. Their voices sounded effortless, even, and easy, no matter what the voice range: soprano to alto, tenor to baritone.
The piano accompaniment of Joe Walsh was all anyone could want either as a performer or audience member. Walsh set the rhythm and pace, effortlessly connected with the musical notes and the singers.
Every audience member likely had their favorite tunes. Each song was a pleasure to watch and listen to, but some of the performances really struck my ears and eyes.
Lauren Fraites’s voice and movement in “Let’s Do It” matching Cole Porter’s music and rich lyrics. Tony Lemus’s expressive take on Irving Berlin’s “Be Careful It’s My Heart.” The appealing duet by Hasan Crawford and Bella Lerch of George and Ira Gershwin’s “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”
Santiago Alfonzo Meza’s luminous voice for the love song “Some Enchanted Evening” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. Rachel Sharp’s snappy take on “They All Laughed” by the Gershwin. The sunshine of movement and singing by Drake Leach and Ariel Kraje with “I Won’t Dance” by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields.
Jessica Barraclough’s warm stimulating take on Hoagy Carmichael and Mitchell Parish’s “Stardust.” The rich tight harmonies of Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach’s “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” performed by Jeffrey Trent with Tony Lemus, Brandon Morris, Garvey Dobbins and Grace McName. Sophia Inserra and Annie Graninger’s heartfelt duet of “Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again” by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler and Milton Ager and Jack Yellen.
The evening’s finale was a stunner. A strong, heartwarming production of “Over the Rainbow” performed by the whole company. It was a world premiere arrangement by David Rowen of the song composed by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg which is often sung as a solo.
Celebrating the Great American Songbook! by the Mason Cabaret proves with their verve-filled voices and glowing performances that the songbook is in great hands. For those who care about the future of the Great American Songbook, worry not; the enduring, timeless cultural treasures live on.
Running time: About 75 minutes with no intermission
Celebrating the Great American Songbook! The Mason Cabaret in Concert performed on January 31, 2020, and February 1, 2020, at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. There will be one more performance on February 7, 2020 at 8 p.m. at the Hylton Performing Arts Center, 10960 George Mason Cir, Old Town Manassas, VA. For tickets, go online.
Complete list of performers: Jessica Barraclough, Hasan Crawford, Garvey Dobbins, Samuel Dunn III, Lauren Fraites, Annie Graninger, Allison Gryder, Sophia Inserra, Rebecca Kinard, Ariel Kraje, Drake Leach, Isabella Lerch, Tony Lemus, Grace McNamee, Santiago Alfonzo Meza, Brandon Morris, Molly Nuss, Rachel Sharp, Jeffrey Trent, and Kathleen West. Addison Picardat was the stage manager.