Most recently seen at The Kennedy Center in Eric Schaeffer’s lavish production of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, Terri White has returned to the Washington, DC area, but this time with a single spotlight shining on her. Selected by Barbara Cook herself to perform in the ongoing Barbara Cook’s Spotlight cabaret series at The Kennedy Center, White shared her bombastic vocal stylings with an appreciative audience on a cold January night. Covering everything from jazz and standards to modern showtunes, every number had one thing in common – Ms. White gave them her all.
White’s Broadway career has certainly withstood the test of time; in the last thirty-something years she’s been featured in such shows as Barnum, Ain’t Misbehavin, Welcome to the Club, Finian’s Rainbow, of course Follies. Her strong voice, charismatic personality, and immense stage presence – all perhaps necessary components for her to make it on the Great White Way for so long – also translate well to the cabaret medium, if her Kennedy Center performance is any indication. Featuring sixteen selections and two additional encores (one of which was unplanned), the laid-back performance gave us just a taste of what Ms. White can do vocally.
While nearly every vocal number was strong, even if the in-between song banter was slightly painful and awkward, a couple of them stood out as highlights. With her longtime musical director Bobby Peaco on piano and Ivan Bodley rocking it out on bass, White took on Krieger and Eyen’s iconic “I Am Changing” from Dreamgirls with reckless abandon. While I often complain this number is overdone, White breathed new life into it. Her emotional and soulful rendition featured riffs aplenty, but she also very visibly connected with the hopeful lyrics.
Kander and Ebb’s “When You’re Good to Mama” (from Chicago) has also long been a staple song for many a Broadway beltress, but White’s rendition was so filled with sass, spunk, and comedic timing that she made me forget that I’ve heard the number many times before. She brought the same sass and spunk to Lane and Harburg’s “Necessity” from Finian’s Rainbow, which made me fondly recall seeing her in that show as part of the New York City Center’s Encores! She tore up the stage with it then, just as she did this time around.
Other highlights included Billie Holiday’s jazz standard “God Bless the Child” and Bobby Troup’s R&B classic “Route 66” (featuring Peaco as a duet partner). White more than proved her vocal versatility with these selections and, “Route 66” highlighted her playful personality. The encore “Who Can I Turn To,” made famous by Tony Bennett, also showcased the softer dimensions of her voice and all of its glorious textures.
Overall, the eclectic musical performance is certainly one that I will remember.
– Barbara Cook’s Spotlight: Terri White was a one night only performance at The Kennedy Center on Friday, January 25, 2013. Tickets to the remaining Barbara Cook Spotlight performance for the 2012-2013 season, featuring Broadway’s Adam Pascal, can be purchased online starting on February 6, 2013.
[Editor's note: With this review, we welcome Jennifer Perry to our writing staff. An informed and active theatregoer, Jennifer will open up the world of cabaret performances for our readers.]