Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Theater review: A very Tony day with Chita and Faith

Chita Rivera.

By Hap Erstein

For fans of Tony Award-winning musical theater stars, Palm Beach County was a great place to be Tuesday.

At 2 p.m., at the Kravis Center, I caught the tireless Chita Rivera and her one-woman concert, My Broadway. That evening, still on a high from her performance, I headed to the Colony Hotel’s Royal Room and saw Faith Prince’s tour de force cabaret act, which she is recording this week to generate a “live” CD.

Rivera, now 77, was booked as part of the Kravis’s Adults at Leisure series, which meant that A) the 2 o’clock show was an encore, following an earlier 85-minute set at 11:30 a.m., and B) my wife and I brought down the median age of the audience by a sizeable amount, and we are not exactly youngsters.

Still, Rivera held the packed Dreyfoos Hall auditorium crowd riveted as she sashayed her way through the highlights of her career. She has had impressive staying power, when you consider that her first originating featured role as Anita in West Side Story was 52 years ago.

She toyed with the audience by opening with I Won’t Dance, an implied statement that her concert would largely consist of vocals, sung stationary at a center stage microphone. Of course, she soon relented from her musical refusal, noting that she may not exactly dance, but she could not help but move with her signature grace -- well, minus those high-kicking extensions -- when she heard the music from her hit shows, including such John Kander-Fred Ebb shows as Chicago, The Rink and Kiss of the Spider Woman.

The voice was a little lower and more gravelly than on her cast albums, but she still sounded very good, remarkably so when you consider that Rivera was always considered more of a dancer than a singer.

More so than in her previous Kravis visit with her Broadway autobiography, A Dancer’s Life, Rivera’s musical arrangements, whether for the entire band or a three-piece combo, leaned towards jazzy liberties. Highlights included Spider Woman’s salsa-tinged Where You Are, a dizzying Carousel from Jacques Brel and her signature opening number from Chicago, All That Jazz. Perhaps most stirring was a solo from one of Kander and Ebb’s final collaborations, The Visit, that she hinted may be headed into New York by the end of this year, after a long gestation period. Here’s hoping it happens.

Faith Prince.

While Rivera concedes that most of her musicals of late have been dramatically dark in tone, Faith Prince tends to seek out the comic side of the musical spectrum. A natural comedienne, she had a packed Royal Room audience screaming with laughter, as she belted out Shy from Once Upon a Mattress, a pair of Audrey’s showstoppers from Little Shop of Horrors (Somewhere That’s Green, Suddenly Seymour), Maltby amd Shire’s linguistic stream-of-consciousness rant, Crossword Puzzle and a delicious monologue about her duck-challenged days on the off-Broadway revue, Scrambled Feet.

Also likely to make the cut and land on the album was a jaunty version of Take Me Back to Manhattan, with new specialty lyrics decrying the recent economic woes (“Take me back to the ‘80s/ Take me back to excess”).

Prince was in fine voice and a giddy mood, which proved contagious. Accompanied by pianist Alex Rybeck and bass player Jamie Ousley, she did a few obligatory verses from her Broadway roles in Guys and Dolls, The King and I and Bells Are Ringing, but quickly moved into territory she had not previously recorded. While she turned the corner nicely from comedy to pathos on Mame’s If He Walked Into My Life, dedicated to her teenage son Henry, I’m not sure she was able to mine sufficient pain to succeed with Sondheim’s The Ladies Who Lunch, her highly entertaining set’s only false step.

Even her recent short-lived chamber musical A Catered Affair was included, with a touching, understated rendition of Coney Island. The show may not have had what it takes to last on Broadway, but the score has several potential cabaret standards in it.

Prince has been appearing at the Royal Room for six years now, and she knows how to pack a lot of entertainment in 90 minutes. Rivera’s show has come and gone, though she continues with it on tour and will undoubtedly take it in to New York at some point.

Prince, however, is at the Royal Room through Saturday. Cabaret fans will want to see her in person, a prelude to enjoying the eventual CD.

FAITH PRINCE, Colony Hotel Royal Room, 155 Hammon Ave., Palm Beach. Through Saturday. Call: (561) 659-8100. Dinner and show, $90-$125; show only, $60-$75 per person.

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