CATCH THESE 4 RISING STARS:
As the new fall musical season approaches, let’s look back at five performances that left me breathless from musicals that graced our local stages the past year.
(1) AND (2) FELICIA CURRY IN AIDA AT TOBY’S-THE DINNER THEATRE OF COLUMBIA, AND TWO QUEENS, ONE CASTLE AT METROSTAGE.
A hot and spicy curry burned up the stage in two hot shows last year. Auntie Em! Auntie Em! Watch out for this human cyclone!! Felicia Curry, a petite powerhouse actress and singer extraordinaire, caused the earth to move at Toby’s-The Dinner Theatre of Columbia, and MetroStage where she portrayed Aida, the Nubian princess trying to save her father and her people in the Elton John-Tim Rice musical, and writer Jevetta Steele, whose world falls apart when her “down low” husband, who is infected with HIV, cheats on her with a man.
I took 50 Ushers members to see Aida at Toby’s, and at intermission you could hear only this-“Where did they find her? Isn’t she amazing?”
Hearing Felicia sing The Past Is Another Land, How I Know You and Easy As Life was thrilling and to hear that beautiful timber in her voice was a revelation. Sheer beauty and power.
Toby Orenstein knew she had a unique talent in Felicia when she cast her in Cats (Rumpleteezer), Ragtime (Sarah’s Friend), Footloose (Rusty), Miss Saigon (Gigi), Sour Kangaroo in Seussical, and in Godspell (her first Helen Hayes Award nomination in 2005).
Alright-I know, these weren’t happy roles, but these two brilliant performances blew away theatre goers and proved that Felicia Curry is a force to be reckoned with. She was nominated for her second Helen Hayes Award for her performance in Aida in 2006 (losing to Erin Driscoll – (Hope in Urinetown at Signature Theatre) and Meg Gillentine (Lola in Damn Yankees at Arena Stage.) Hopefully, the Helen Hayes judges won’t forget her harrowing and brilliantly sung and powerful performance of Wife in Two Queens, One Castle at MetroStage, when the nominations are announced in Spring 2007.
I will never forget that look of horror Felicia had on her face when her husband (played brilliantly by TC Carson) attempted to rape her and infect her at the end of the first act of Two Queens, One Castle. Her haunting rendition of I Ain’t Supposed To Be Here, left me and the entire audience emotionally drained. For here was not only a great singer, but also a great actress. What a future this mega talent has!
After her name wasn’t announced as the winner at this year’s Helen Hayes Awards, I searched and searched for her to tell her how much I loved her in Aida, and I wanted to wish her well. With typical grace and humor, she looked at me in her gorgeous peach gown and said, “I’m not doing so badly. Of all the nominees tonight, I’m the only one I know who is bringing home a weekly paycheck, and for that, I am truly blessed.”
Currently, Felicia is wowing screaming young girls and their parents all around the country playing Topaz-one of the “seven protectoresses” of Fairytopia, in Barbie Live in Fairytopia. The show is directed by Eric Schaeffer. Go girl!!
(3) JIMI RAY MALARY AS THE NARRATOR AND VOCALIST IN ELLINGTON: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF THE DUKE AT METRO STAGE.
Audiences took the metro, or drove to MetroStage this summer to hear the smooth, velvety, pretty, lovely, cool voice of Jimi Ray Malary, as he caressed the songs of The Duke of Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.
I would have taken the A Train if there was one.
I took dozens of friends, fellow Ushers and Footlights members to see the show, and everyone was walkin’ on air after the performances. Why? Maybe it was the chills that went up and down my spine when Jimi‘s lower register oozed through Come Sunday, Caravan and Lush Life. Or maybe it was my endless toe tapping and finger snapping to Hit Me With A High Note and Watch Me Bounce, It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing and Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me. Or maybe it was that great band of Helen Hayes Award Winner (For the musical direction of Dinah Was!) William Knowles on piano, Yusef Chisholm on bass, Gregory Holloway on drums, and Ron Oshima on saxophone. Wow! Boy, could these cats play! Maybe it was-well-just watching their faces glow with joy on that stage.
Lucky for all you sophisticated ladies and gentlemen, and for those of you who were silly enough to have missed Ellington, Jimi Ray Malary returns to MetroStage for 6 weeks starting November 23rd singing the songs of Nat King Cole in King Of Cool-The Life, The Man, which was a smash in Milwaukee and Seattle. It will truly be unforgettable.
Listen to my interview with Jimi at Ellington recorded an hour before the first performance on Saturday, July 15, 2006. Hear Jimi sing Drop Me Off to Harlem and a la Nat King Cole-When I Fall In Love. A cappella. Oops, I got those chills again writing this.
(4) DANIEL COONEY AS EDGAR ALLAN POE IN NEVERMORE AT SIGNATURE THEATRE.
I thought I’d see him nevermore.
Last Saturday, 5 friend and I traveled to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to see For The Glory ((a reworking of the Broadway musical –The Civil War– by gushy song writer Frank Wildhorn, of Jekyll and Hyde fame. As I opened my program to peruse at the cast, a slip of paper fell out (don’t you hate that when that happens?) and it said,” Daniel Cooney will now be performing the role of Confederate Captain,” I was elated. Daniel had just come into the production, replacing Rob Evan (who had played the lead role(s) of Jekyll and Hyde on Broadway).
Here was a talented man who played a dreary and unhappy Edgar Allan Poe at Signature Theatre, singing Matt Conner’s beautiful songs and ballads, now playing another unhappy fellow. (See Felicia, you’re not the only one who played two unhappy lead roles beautifully this year.)
When Daniel sang the hauntingly beautiful Alone and Poetic Principal at Nevermore, I felt his character’s pain and despair. All I could think about when I left the theatre after the show was, “When were the producers going to record this tremendous score, so I could listen to Dan’s performance of Matt’s lush score-over and over again?”
The highlight of the afternoon was hearing Daniel sing Virginia:
There was a time
A time of splendour and grace
When the world moved by
At a kinder pace
There was a land
A land to pleasure the eyes
Where the old was new
And the foolish wise
I can hear Virginia
When the south wind sings
And I see her shining
On a blackbird’s silver wings
And I can feel Virginia
Runnin’ through my soul…..
In the hands of a lesser artist, the song would have been corny and over sentimental, but in the hands of Daniel Cooney, the song was an event.
I’m still humming the melody a week later.
After the show, my friend Doug Poms and I tracked Daniel down near the railroad tracks (that’s where the backstage door was). We told Dan how much we enjoyed his performance and especially his rendition of Virginia. We told him that For The Glory would be great for Ford’s Theatre, and Dan said it would be great to “play the show in Virginia.”
(Are you listening Ford’s Theatre and Little Theatre of Alexandria?)
Having played in National tours of Les Miz, Evita (playing Che), Fiddler On The Roof (Perchick), and The Civil War, Daniel has a great career ahead of him. He possesses a clear, powerful, beautiful tenor voice that everyone who was lucky enough to get tickets to the sold out run of Nevermore, will never forget. Don’t be too surprised if Daniel’s name is in the envelope for Best Actor in a Resident Musical next spring at The Helen Hayes Awards.
To watch a short video about the Majestic production of For The Glory, click on http://fortheglorythemusical.com/videonmusic.html
(5) MAX TALISMAN AS NOAH GELLMAN IN CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, AT STUDIO THEATRE.
Where do you find a talented kid to play the lead in Caroline, or Change, a difficult and complex theatre piece about the relationship between a young Jewish boy and an African American woman who was the maid in his home? The role of Noah Gellman required a young actor to be able to stand on his own with a powerhouse of a singer and actress- Julia Nixon (and if she doesn’t clean up at next year’s Helen Hayes Awards, I will put those judges through the ringer.)
The kid needs to be mature, with stage experience and must have a great voice-it’s not easy to sing Jeanine Tesori’s difficult score, and this kid has to act. He has to portray a kid who every audience member wants to put his or her arms around and say, “It’s OK, everything will be alright.”
I was at Studio Theatre at the first preview performance, where I met Max Talisman’s parents. Alisa and Jon, before the show. There wasn’t a nervous bone in their bodies because as they told me, Max is ready and he’s excited. We know he can do it.”
I recall seeing a similar scene only one other time, in NYC 3 years earlier, when I met Harrison Chad’s parents before an early performance of Caroline, Or Change at The Public Theater, where, ironically, Harrison was preparing to play the same role as Max, the role of Noah Gellman. (Harrison played Young Patrick in Mame this year at The Kennedy Center, and earned great reviews from the critics).
Very self-confident and very un-nervous Max walked out to greet his parents and to tell them he would see them after the show. I wished Max and his parents good luck, and as I watched Max walk slowly to the stage door with his chaperone, I had no doubt the kid would be smashing as Noah.
When Max opened his mouth and sang his first notes in Caroline.. That night, he blew the audience and me away. Wow! This kid had a voice that was way beyond his age. Here was another cyclone-to-be on the stage and the excitement of his vocal prowess caused more than a small whisper throughout the theatre that night, and although his acting was stiff in the first weeks of the run, Max grew into the role, and by the first month into the run, his performance was perfection. Even Harrison Chad, who created the role of Noah, told me he saw Max perform Noah, and he was very impressed and “moved” by Max’s performance.
I think that says it all.
Mazel Tov, Max, on your performance. Your fellow Hebrews are qvelling over your success in Caroline boychik! Let me know when the first Hunter Kieserman/Max Talisman musical is produced. I’ll buy tickets. (The most recent Talisman-Kieserman score-in-progress is The Drive to Paris.) Call me before next year’s Tony Nominations come out. I challenge you to predict more nominations than me. What’s with these zaftig Jewish guys and those Tony Awards? Max, who do you think will win Best Musical next year – Grey Gardens or Curtains?