by Matt Smith
“Thirty-five years and my life is still trying to get up that great big hill of hope for a destination…”
Such is the proclamation songstress Krysta Rodriguez makes at a point in her standout debut solo show, which played Midtown hotspot Feinstein’s/54 Below earlier this month, a mere 17 years after her initial arrival in the Big Apple.
Admitting she put off such a daunting gig out of fear that she didn’t have anything to say (or, at least, anything from which she could produce a fluid, well-crafted evening of song), with help from two powerhouse backup singers and a rollicking rock quartet of top-notch instrumentalists, the acclaimed singer-actress deliberately — and proudly — forgoes the traditional rundown of her resume in favor of singing “whatever the f*ck she wants.” As a result, she creates an evening that is equally as empowering and emboldening as it is fun-lovin’ and fresh, the eclectic choices — selected completely out of personal preference and not adhering to “cabaret guidelines” — allowing us an even more personal peek into who Rodriguez really is as a person than the already-intimate environment affords.
And what a peek it is. Whether schmoozing her special guests (“What a tall drink of water we’ve got here!”), trading barbs with trusty second banana Ben Rauhala, or playfully throwing shade at the audience (“Thank you for paying to see me perform,” she quips, before a Hercules number), she’s unapologetically cheeky throughout, wholeheartedly indulging in just being herself… and if this show is any indication, you’ll know she knows how to have a good time.
Of course, the evening isn’t completely devoid of the fan favorites, delivered via a rapid-fire medley of truncated “greatest hits” and additional standalone tributes to “Spring Awakening” and “Smash,” or even coveted dream roles, courtesy of, first a haunting duet with guest Adam J. Levy, and then, an irreverent fusion blending the Queen of Argentina (Eva Perón) with the Queen of Everything Else (Beyoncé).
But, even so, she’s steadfast in letting us know she’s in control of these decisions… and, as the evening goes on, we come to realize she ain’t just talking about her set list.
She’s an expert at making the best of a bad situation (or, as she jokes in the aforementioned ode to Queen Bey, making “lemons out of lemonade”), something easier said than done, when you consider all she’s undergone in life, especially in the last five years. (The actress was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, and underwent chemotherapy treatments for two years, oftentimes concurrent with her Broadway and television commitments).
Still, she’s (fortunately) come out on the other side, using this concert as an outlet, to inspire people, detailing her journey of finding her womanhood, reclaiming her power, and learning to live free and proudly in her own skin, while simultaneously urging us to each take up space, own who we are and, as she did, continually “find beauty in [what’s] unattractive” to us.
So, even though she insists she’s got nothing to say, in the end, she’s ultimately saying quite a lot. What’s more . . . it resonates. Maybe she’s conquered more of that proverbial hill she’s singing about than she allows herself to believe she has.
“You’d think overcoming such a massive, gargantuan obstacle is pretty hard, and it is, but sometimes, it’s much more difficult to [navigate life] once you’ve moved past the obstacle,” she says, of her inevitably transformative journey. “You’re sort of torn apart and then pieced back together again and shoved back into the stream of life. [For me], nobody knows that I’m completely different inside than I was when I began this procedure. And that can be disconcerting, and very hard to [maneuver] a lot of the time.”
And, given that, “it was really easy to be angry, and a lot of times, I know it’s really easy to be angry, and it does feel good. But,” she says, before concluding with the Bobby McFerrin tune, detailing the self-learned benefits of choosing kindness over bitterness, and truly not making a stink over the small stuff, “most of the time, it’s just as easy to be happy.”
And, having experienced Krysta and her stellar set, we can fervently say we most definitely are.
Krysta Rodriguez presented her self-titled solo show at Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 W. 54th Street) from September 10th-14th. For more information, please visit www.54below.com.