By Beatrice Williams-Rude
As part of the annual Urban Stages Winter Rhythms series, Janice Hall’s new cabaret show “The Opera Show [With No Opera]” was presented.
This most innovative effort consists of using opera as a springboard to popular music, wittily describing the plots of operas and the emotions evoked.
Not since concert-pianist comedian Victor Borge has classical music been so humorously used: stood on its head, yet recognized.
The four operas dissected are: La Traviata, in which Ms.Hall appeared as Violetta in the Live From Lincoln Center telecast directed by Renata Scotto; La Bohème, in which over time she sang both Mimi and Musetta; The Barber of Seville, in which she played Rosina, and astonishingly because of the vocal demands, Salome.
But then, I’m convinced Janice Hall can sing just about anything. Her vocal range and technique are extraordinary. She can float a pianissimo head tone in the vocal stratosphere and yet has chest tones worthy of Azucena. She spans wide intervals without a break in her voice.
She culls her material from a wide spectrum including Comden & Green/Jule Styne; Stephen Sondheim; Rodgers & Hammerstein; Maury Yeston; Noel Coward; Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty; M. Kornweibel, John McCrea, Barry Levitt and Peter Napolitano (the opening introduction, explanation).
Janice Hall’s chatting leading to the singing is delightfully witty and to the point. Her splendid accompanist who also does duets with her, is Matthew Martin Ward, who is in addition, her musical director. In a wink at opera cognoscenti he includes motifs from the operas being humorously discussed—even Salome–in the accompaniment.
The excellent producing is by Peter Napolitano —21 offerings in 12 days.
Winter Rhythms is part of the outreach program of Urban Stages which brings live theater to those who might not otherwise have access to it. Libraries, senior centers and schools are the beneficiaries, thanks to the unending efforts of Urban Stages founder, Frances Hill.
As I was reveling in “C’est la Vie Bohème” it occurred to me that Janice Hall would be an ideal Kiki, in the late Dale Wasserman’s still unproduced work, Montparnasse. The sweet score, by Michel Legrand needs an arranger à la Jonathan Tunick to give it a hard edge, bite and to darken it. That said, it’s ready to go. Kiki was a historical figure, the most important model of her time who posed for almost all of the great artists of the period.
So won’t somebody please mount a production of Montparnasse and cast Janice Hall as Kiki?
Urban Stages is at 259 West Thirtieth Street (between Seventh and Eighth Aves.) in Manhattan. The Winter Rhythms series runs through Dec. 23.