Lillias White/The Seth Concert Series through December 27
Lillias White had been scheduled to appear on The Seth Concert Series on October 4, but had to postpone till November 15. It was worth the wait to have her appear on this live broadcast.
Wearing a raspberry-colored sequined top and her signature close-cropped hair, White told of originally wanting to be a nurse (to which theater-obsessed Host/Musical Director Seth Rudetsky made a face) or a ballerina, but it was knowing how to juggle that got her her Broadway debut as a replacement in a featured role in Cy Coleman’s Barnum.
Though she broke her elbow in the last week of Barnum’s run, she bounced back and, five months later, returned to Broadway in the short-lived Rock ‘N Roll! The First 5,000 Years. She recalled how one of the chorus girls in it quit after the first week of rehearsals to record an album. Her name? Madonna.
Having grown up in New York, White said it was “very exciting being a young woman performing on Broadway in my hometown.”
After acting off-Broadway in The Amen Corner and Black Nativity, and doing the bus & truck tour (“not for the faint of heart”) of The Wiz as Dorothy’s understudy, White was convinced by no less than Director Michael Bennett to go to Los Angeles to serve as stand-by for Jennifer Holliday in Dreamgirls. She took over the role in San Francisco and returned to Broadway with the production as Effie in 1987.
Other roles would follow, including the original production of Once on This Island (she was actually beaming this performance from castmate LaChanze’s apartment) and the Matthew Broderick revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, with a high point being The Life, another Cy Coleman show, for which White won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.
Throughout the concert, White employed her lovely, soaring soprano to marvelous effect. As Barnum’s Joice Heth, she may have been the “oldest woman in the world”, but White delivered Thank God I’m Old with youthfulness and vibrancy.
White brought great jazz and gospel flavorings to a deeply felt, honey-coated rendition of The Wiz’s Home, and let loose with a teasing and delectable Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now from Ain’t Misbehavin’, a show she did while pregnant.
White gave us an exuberant, soul-infused (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman with Rudetsky providing the a-whoops, and if she went up on the lyrics of Anita Baker’s Fairy Tales that was because his tempo was too slow and threw her off; restarted, faster, all was fine with this very cool song about accepting reality.
The concert’s finale was The Oldest Profession from The Life and White did this serio-comic song to perfection, showing why that Tony was bestowed upon her.
Throughout the 90-minute show, White conveyed a thoughtful yet delightfully down-to-earth presence. When things get back to normal, I hope we’ll have the pleasure of seeing her here as part of Rudetsky’s Broadway@NOCCA.
Coming up next in The Seth Concert Series are Tony winner James Monroe Iglehart (Dec. 13), and Tony nominees Adam Pascal (Dec. 20) and Kerry Butler (Dec. 27).
But first, on December 6, Ana Gasteyer will be making her SCS debut. After she appeared at NOCCA in March 2015, I wrote
“After seeing Ana Gasteyer’s terrific Broadway@NOCCA show, I think a petition should be started to get this funny songstress the lead in a brand new Broadway musical.
“Coming from a somewhat eccentric family that had a loom in their living room (“If that’s not Quaker bona fides, I don’t know what is,” she cracked), Gasteyer has a natural comic energy that she put forth to outstanding effect in such songs as I’m Hip and A Proper Cup of Coffee.
“Having met Rudetsky in NBC’s gym when they both worked there in the ’90s, they share a deep rapport that allows for casual give’n’take and a willingness on Gasteyer’s part to open up about opera singing relatives from Transylvania and hilarious backstage craziness involving mechanical and wardrobe malfunctions.
“She also has a bodacious set of pipes which she showed off with effortless excellence with songs from Wicked and Funny Girl, both shows in which she’s had the lead.
“Supremely versatile, cute, and game for anything, this audaciously talented performer delivered one of the best B@N evenings since the series started. Let’s hope NOLA hasn’t seen the last of her.”
It’ll be good to have her back in NOLA, even if only virtually.
To purchase tickets to these upcoming shows, go to thesethconcertseries.com
Le Petit has a new virtual cabaret series featuring Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone (Just Getting Good, Dec. 10) and Leslie Castay (Crazy World, Dec. 17). Both evenings will offer Broadway tunes and other standards tailored for a swanky, yet socially distanced, evening of live entertainment.
Heading out from St. Peter Street, Le Petit’s Touring Stage will be bringing a holiday extravaganza to parks and outdoor spaces in Orleans, Jefferson, and St. Tammany Parishes throughout the month of December.
A Nola Noël, an original holiday musical by Curtis Billings & Maxwell Williams, tells the story of Marcus, a young boy who finds himself lost in a strange new city full of unfamiliar customs. Trying to get home in time for Christmas, Marcus befriends a kindly stranger named Nick, who bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain North Pole resident. Nick takes Marcus on a musical journey through New Orleans’ many cultures and diverse influences, and, along the way, reveals the true meaning of home.
A Nola Noël will play at the Abita Springs Trailhead (Dec. 10-13), Metairie’s Bucktown Marina (Dec. 17-20), and the Broadside Theatre along the Lafitte Greenway (Dec. 23-26). Tickets are available for both the virtual cabarets and A Nola Noël at http://www.lepetittheatre.com/listings/events/
Determined to sprinkle holiday cheer on these challenging times, other theaters will also be bringing festive–plus safe and socially distanced–entertainments to us in the coming weeks.
Rivertown Theaters presents a holiday event for the whole family, A Charlie Brown Christmas Live on Stage (Dec. 4-13). Adapted from Charles M. Schulz’s timeless story of the spirit of Christmas, this all-new production features Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, and the whole Peanuts gang as well as the unforgettable music of Vince Guaraldi. More info and tickets at https://www.rivertowntheaters.com/
In Mandeville, 30 by Ninety Theatre celebrates the holidays with their 2nd Annual A Very Merry Christmas Spectacular, a glittering spectacle of singing and dancing that promises to get you ready for the holidays. Not only will there be local performers of all ages on stage, but also complimentary milk & cookies at every performance. Shows are December 4-13 and tickets are going fast. (https://30byninety.com/shows/a-very-merry-christmas-spectacular/)
Further north in Covington, Playmakers Theater brings Ludwig Bemelmans’ beloved character to life in Madeline’s Christmas, The Musical. Book & lyrics are by Jennifer Kirkeby, music by Shirley Mier, and Jennifer Patterson directs. The production runs one weekend Dec. 3-6. (https://playmakers-theater-05.webself.net/home)
Slidell Little Theatre is doing something a smidge different and having a holiday fundraiser December 11-20 with A Twisted Christmas Carol, a Texas spoof of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, set in a li’l barbecue joint.
Don’t want to give too much away, but it’s Christmas Eve in a small west Texas town and cantankerous BBQ diner owner Buford Johnson gets in an argument with his wife Darla. One thing leads to another and the next thing you know he’s in a coma where, in his dreamlike state, he’s visited by the ghost of his ex-business partner who takes him on a journey of Christmas past, present, and future, Texas style. (http://siteline.vendini.com/site/slidelllittletheatre.org/a-twisted-christmas-carol)
And that most classic of holiday treats, Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker, comes to JPAS’ Jefferson Performing Arts Center in Metairie, for four performances only, Dec. 12, 13, 19 & 20 at 2:00pm.
Kenneth Beck & Kimberly Matulich-Beck choreograph toy soldiers, mice, and the Sugar Plum Fairy on a fantastical journey to the Land of Sweets as young Clara befriends a nutcracker who comes to life on Christmas Eve to wage a battle against the evil Mouse King. I bet you can guess who’ll win. (https://www.jpas.org/performance/the-nutcracker-3/)
Curtain Down…and Up
Unfortunately but understandably, New Orleans Opera (NOO) recently announced that its upcoming productions of Beethoven’s Fidelio, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly had been canceled. The good news, however, is that NOO will present Gian Carlo Menotti’s chamber opera The Medium on March 19 and 20. Because the City of New Orleans currently does not allow indoor performances, the production will take place in an outdoor venue to be determined.
Furthermore, the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess will be performed live in concert on the previously announced dates of April 30 and May 1, venue likewise TBD. NOO promises “the greatest hits from one of America’s best loved operas, while shortening the evening and presenting it outdoors to keep [patrons] safe.” It ain’t necessarily what the Gershwins had in mind but it’s certainly better than just plenty o’ nuttin’.