Pictured: Megan Smith singing “Memory” from Cats in The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber
by Jillian Carter
Last night I was lucky enough to be in the audience for the kickoff of TADA’s 20th anniversary season at opening night of The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. As we were welcomed by Board President Rod Fowler, Managing Artistic Director Robert Rook, and Co-Founder Cris Rook, there was a palpable feeling of community and arts appreciation in the room. As Mr. Rook thanked a few audience members by name and recalled how TADA was created for one project that has turned into 20 years of productions, it was nice to feel a part of something larger.
That same sentiment was evident in the opening number, “No Matter What,” which showcased the voices of the entire company: Judy Anderson, Roderick Cotton, Drew Duncan, Megan Ingram, Beth King, John Schnoor, and Megan Smith. It was satisfying to see the obvious connections made by the ensemble and join them on their journey. They were clearly having a good time and happy to invite us in.
The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber is a celebration of the famed artist’s work from several different shows, including well-known classics like The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, and Sunset Boulevard, as well as lesser-known (at least to me) shows like Aspects of Love and Whistle Down the Wind. Performed as solos, duets, and full company numbers, the songs are brought to life with help from a group of four musicians (Deanna Mumgaard, Elysia Arntzen, Ashley Peterson, and Dietrich Hitt), subtle costumes (coordinated by Karen Statham) and background imagery (designed by Mr. Rook) projected on a large monitor. The imagery in particular set the correct tone for each song, while remaining unobtrusive. This stripped-down performance style is especially interesting when presenting traditionally over-the-top, big music numbers, like “Superstar” from Jesus Christ Superstar and “Light at the End of the Tunnel” from Starlight Express.
The absolute highlights of the show for me were Beth King’s two solo performances, “Tell Me on a Sunday” from the show of the same name and “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from Sunset Boulevard. I felt that these two songs were the most emotionally resonant, with King finding an impressive depth and complexity of emotion that brought her characters to life. I was not familiar with the show or the song “Tell Me on a Sunday,” so it came as a refreshing surprise to find such a borderline casual song in the hard-hitting lineup. King’s performance of this piece was both strong and vulnerable, the delivery both matter-of-fact and pleading. In short, it was a masterful performance by an extremely talented artist, as was her channeling of Norma Desmond in the second act, when she embodied both ingenue and has-been, girlish naivete and jaded fatigue.
Speaking of Norma Desmond, Judy Anderson takes her on for “With One Look” in Act One, and seems completely comfortable with the role. If King’s interpretation of Desmond is one of smoldering desperation, Anderson’s is more everyday and relatable. She manages to remind us that there is a little bit of Norma in each of us, and that’s not so bad. That same relatability comes through in “Anything But Lonely,” when I just wanted to run backstage and give Anderson a hug, because I didn’t want her to be lonely! No lie, I was a bit choked up.
Other highlights of the night included Roderick Cotton and Company’s “Superstar,” which kept a big smile on my face from the first note to the last. Part of the smile came from Cotton’s gorgeous voice, filled with gravitas and wonder, part from his own endearing smile and presence, and part from the enthusiasm of the backup singers/dancers for their shimmying. The entire company is onstage for this number and credited in the program, but something must be said of their contributions in other uncredited ways. Their vocals during “Close Every Door” from Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat were truly haunting, and the swell of their voices during Evita’s “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” was unexpected and welcome.
Something unique to the TADA Theatre is that the intimate space lends itself nicely to understated moments, which can’t always translate in larger venues. Some of the company used this to their great advantage, since we can’t all fill the room two times over with seemingly little effort like Drew Duncan. John Schnoor was clearly at his best when he lowered his voice to sing quietly into Megan Ingram’s ear during “The Phantom of the Opera.” This was a moment that really creeped me out (in a good way) but that wouldn’t be possible in a traditional staging of the show. It was also an effective technique for Ingram in “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” allowing her to take the audience into her personal confidence, and for Megan Smith in “Memory.” There’s a particular moment in “Memory” when Smith is almost embracing the stage right pillar, that her lowered voice cuts to the core, lending a certain amount of intimacy to her tale.
Because of the wide-ranging spectrum of shows and songs and the array of performers in this regional premiere, The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber can be enjoyed by diehard Webber fans and those less versed in his works. Coming in at 90 only minutes including a ten-minute intermission, it is also a good choice for those who only go to the theatre because their loved one drags them along! There is something for everyone!
If you go: The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber is being performed at The TADA Theatre (701 P Street) in the historic Haymarket February 7-9, 13-16, and 20-23. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances are at 7:30 pm, with Sunday matinees at 2:00 pm. Tickets are available online or at the box office 45 minutes before performances, if tickets are available.
Jillian Carter is a playwright, actress, director, and mother of four, as well as the managing editor of Appearing Locally.
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