One of the extraordinary things about Barbara Cook’s Spotlight Series – now in its fifth year at the Kennedy Center – is that it introduces or reintroduces Washington DC audiences to a diverse array of musical theatre talent – some well-known, while others less-known, but equally impressive and skilled vocalists. As an aficionado of the contemporary musical theatre scene, I was certainly intrigued by the announcement that Alexandra Silber would take part in this series. I knew that the young American made a splash on the West End in such hits as Carousel, The Woman in White, and Fiddler on The Roof, and quite recently debuted at the Kennedy Center in Master Class with Tyne Daly, a show that later went to Broadway, where she reprised her role of Sophie DePalma. All of these things, of course, are impressive feats in their own right.
I didn’t know, until now, that she is not only an extremely talented vocalist that can sing anything from opera to showtunes to pop, but she is also an extremely intelligent, thought-provoking and interesting story-teller. The Kennedy Center audience was richly spoiled by her perfect blend of stories, songs, and lessons learned in life. She certainly did not disappoint and neither did the two Broadway musicians that backed her up – Nicholas Archer on piano and Mark Vanderpoel on bass.
Her solo cabaret act, London Still, explored how the California/Michigan native ended up as a star of the West End stage, the lessons she learned there, and her return to America. Pondering the question of “where do I belong?,” Silber took the audience on a very personal journey filled with songs from musical theatre giants like Jerry Herman, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein and John Kander and Fred Ebb, but also contemporary composers like William Finn and Jeff Blumenkrantz. Every song seamlessly moved her story forward, but also treated the audience to some very brilliant singing.
All of her songs were expertly sung and her emotional connection to the lyrics defied her young age. Given her great skill, it is difficult to pinpoint some highlights of the evening because there were so many. Her “And the World Goes Round,” which started the evening off, was one of the best renditions of the classic Kander and Ebb song I have heard and her strong belt definitely caught my attention because I wrongly assumed that, given the roles she’s played in the past, the evening would be filled with ingénue ballads. She proved me wrong. Likewise, “Typically English” (Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley) and “My Book,” (Jeff Blumenkrantz) brought some much needed humor to the evening and showed the audience her light (and sometimes self-deprecating) side.
“Wherever He Ain’t” (Jerry Herman) and “I Enjoy Being a Girl” (Rodgers and Hammerstein) highlighted her fiery nature and her seemingly natural ability to tell a story with song. The former song from Mack and Mabel has been previously covered by Christiane Noll, and Silber certainly follows in Noll’s footsteps with her enviable versatility. While the latter song from Flower Drum Song has been covered many times before (perhaps too many times) she put her own spin on it, which was most welcome.
Vocally, Alexandra’s “Ah, Non Credea Mirarti,” (Bellini) which she previously sang in the Kennedy Center’s production of Master Class, was unparalleled. Her strong and highly-trained voice projected to the back of the Terrace Theatre without any amplification. It was a delight to hear all of the rich tones and colors in her voice in all of their natural glory.
Though the songs were clearly the highlight (it was a cabaret, after all) Silber also lent her creative hand to the evening by sharing some videos that highlight those experiences that shaped who she has become- some of which are rather funny. While I won’t give away all of the details in case readers get the opportunity to witness her cabaret in other venues, I will say that the technological element was not intrusive, but rather seamlessly interwoven into the presentation. In less capable hands, however, they probably would’ve been a distraction.
All in all, it was a glorious evening and I certainly intend to follow her career as she makes her forays into the American musical theatre scene. American audiences are certainly lucky to have her back.
This cabaret performance was a one-time event at the Kennedy Center on December 2, 2011. For tickets to other cabaret performances in Barbara Cook’s Spotlight Series or any of the performances in the Kennedy Center’s 2011-2012 theatre season, call (202) 467-4600 or (800) 444-1324, or purchase them online. The Kennedy Center is located at 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC.
Read Elliot Lanes’ ‘A Quick 5’ with Alexandra Silber.
Go behind the scenes with Alexandra Silber, as she prepares at the half hour call to play Julie Jordan in the West End production of Carousel.
Alexandra Silber’s website.