Directed and conceived by Matthew Gardiner, Signature Vinyl delivers a filmed concert of songs performed by an excellent cast of singers and musicians, captured live at several DC-area outdoor locations. Lyrics, arrangement, and performance of songs, with music direction by Mark G. Meadows, resonate with places such as an open plaza with a wide vista, a District Wharf balcony, a lush garden, a brick wall enclosure, a manicured green space. A design element is the fact of daylight itself, and the shifting emotion from early morning to later afternoon and on into the evening that is colored by light.
Musicians from Mark G. Meadows and The Movement perform on keyboard, bass, drums, guitars, or sax in various configurations to focus the lead vocal and deliver first-rate versions of well-loved turntable classics by Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Elton John, and others. Mostly there is a new singer with each song, and getting to know these nineteen Signature stars is certainly a plus. The camera goes close to highlight facial expression and other small movements that would be missed from the back row of an in-person performance. Streetwear lends a hint of the personality as well as telling you something personal about each performer. It all adds up: the song, the time of day, the musicians, the location, and the vocal.
The edge is when it all adds up to even more, as in Mark Meadows’s performance of Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way It Is” (1986), a song with lyrics that discuss the troubled economy and race relations. Capturing the syncopation of Hornsby’s piano solo and adding his own voice, Meadows is completely engaging as he sings “we’ve got to make a change” and treads a dynamic interplay with Trey Sorrells on saxophone.
The Marvin Gaye songs “Inner City Blues” and “What’s Going On” (1971) feature Inès Nassara and Nova Y. Payton in an enclosed brick wall area. The vacant setting frames the song’s lyrics that illustrate 1960s/70s issues of police brutality and racism that are as timely today. A perfect moment is Nassara’s reaction as Payton’s vocals soar. It’s a tiny instant, yet it stood out as a moment of connection and hope.
Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (1973) is performed by Rachel Zampelli. The balcony is nostalgic, somehow, with the soft breeze and waning sunset. Does that sound a little too cinematic? Zampelli captures these moments in an honest performance. “O-o-h Child” performed by Crystal Mosser and Maria Rizzo carries on a message of what is possible.
Other standouts: “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” performed by Robbie Schaefer and Natascia Diaz, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” performed by Awa Sal Secha and Christian Douglas, and “Cactus Tree” by Joni Mitchell performed by Katie Markio Murray, to name a few.
A few rare moments may catch you off guard, like added choral tracks for songs like “September” (1978) or audio tracks added to supplement instrumentation in other songs. The camera work by Chiet Productions is mostly tight shots and zooms. There’s a quick look, and a slim grasp of where you are and who you are with, before the dive into the song. A deep plunge into a short film is very nice. You can have multiple viewings, find new things, and revive classic songs back into your brain.
Signature Vinyl is filled with songs you can’t get out of your head. These are songs that can power you through your day. Take a walk, do your chores, run your errands, do your work — these songs have staying power and sometimes you want them to stay just a little longer. A song churns through my head. I would gladly share it, and sometimes I try to hum, but if I could only sing… Wait a minute. I know who can sing: the nineteen performers of Signature Vinyl.
Running Time: 80 minutes.
Streaming tickets are available at SigTheatre.org/Signature-Vinyl for a donation of $25 or more through May 6, 2021.