Drop your plans and get your tickets—if you didn’t already see ‘What I Wanted to Sing When I Grew Up’ this past Sunday, you have to go see it on Saturday the 24th. Playing only two performances, this show, presented by The In Series and built around soprano Fleta Hylton, is a must see whether you love opera or not. It isn’t every day you get to go to a lounge-opera-cabaret and be regaled with songs both from beloved operas and masters like Puccini and Mozart as well as songs from the silver screen and musicals by the likes of Irving Berlin and Stephen Sondheim, let alone hear Fleta Hylton sing them all. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I went to see this show, but by the end of the first song, time stopped and the show swallowed me whole.
This was my inaugural performance by Fleta Hylton, whose prowess as a singer was beautifully displayed. You could slide on her voice like it was a lazing chocolate river as she crooned, then in the very next song, soar up into the heavens, strapped to her voice like a go-pro on an eagle in the Alps. When she sang a love poem from Schumann, I think I fell in love. Pianist Reenie Codelka keeps the show moving and sets the mood during some of the narrative parts with her fingers skimming, shimmering their way across the keys and through the wide range of musical pieces.
One of the brilliant aspects of this production are the levels of interactivity and intimacy experienced through the whole production.
Written and directed by Elizabeth Pringle, the cabaret weaves the wide array of songs together through a witty and strikingly honest narrative about life and love. Where the first act is cheery and fanciful and highly flirtatious with the audience continually laughing, the second half changes tone. “This is for adults,” Fleta commented. “Not in an ‘x-rated’ way,” she quickly clarified. The second half is for after all the crazy love feelings are over, after the rebounds and falling in love again, when we have matured and deepened. This is the act when [warning!] you, like me, may find yourself in tears through several songs as Fleta sings their truth with devastating emotion.
One of the brilliant aspects of this production are the levels of interactivity and intimacy experienced through the whole production. Being set on a small stage and in an intimate theatre space, with the addition of a lounge style set-up (complete with tables and lamps in the front row), you are practically as close to Fleta as if you were sitting onstage with her at a larger venue. The frankness of the script drew me in closer still, as if it were this woman and I just talking about her life, her adventures and misadventures in love. “And then one day,” Fleta drawled about halfway through the show, and we all moaned. “Oh yes, you know what that means!” She laughed. Each of the songs connect and interact with the narrative in just the same way, closely fitting and perfectly revealing—this perfect connection that makes the show so magnetic.
If you like to follow along with a songlist during operas and cabarets, take note that no song list is provided until after the show. While I initially was disappointed in this arrangement and did wish at times for a translation of some of the opera pieces, the story was so strong and the sentiment behind each piece so clear that to have been holding a cheat-sheet would have taken away from the production and limited the ability of the performance to sweep me out of time and place. Ushers will provide you with a song list on exit, though, so you can have that keepsake to pour over later.
Lighting and set were simple and sweet, with the lighting dimming and lightening, yellowing and bluing to reflect the tone of narrative and song. The set backdrops and side pieces, though pretty and including a lovely painting of Italian scenery, did not add to the production and could probably have been discarded in favour of a blank, black curtain accentuating the stage pieces like the café table scene and the high stool. It would be hard to create a backdrop not overshadowed by the power and versatility of Fleta Hylton—singing or speaking!
So don’t miss out! Judging by the number of encore’s we demanded on Sunday and this fabulous show having only one more performance, seats are bound to sell out fast.
Running Time: One hour and 20 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
What I Wanted to Sing When I Grew Up has one more performance, on Saturday, January 24, 2015 at 8pm. Tickets run $16-$35, with a 10%- 15% discount for groups. Contact the Box Office at 202.204.7763 or check online.