By Sandi Durell
The long red-haired lovely Sarah Rice is an ethereal soul whose warm and enchanting vocals navigate through the mysteries of opera, to cabaret and to Broadway, where she starred in the original production of Sweeney Todd in the role of Johanna. It doesn’t surprise that she would make the Theremin her instrument of choice with its spooky woo woo of electro magnetic airwaves. It does more than woo woo, however, as it follows her hand gestures – left hand controlling volume and articulation, right hand doing the notes, mind you she never touches the instrument – the results are resonances similar to male and female vocals, mixed with sounds of violin and cello. The Theremin is nothing new, as it dates back to the 1920s when it was made by RCA. But it’s quite extraordinary and other-worldly; this one, sleek in its contemporary styling that has taken her almost three years to master.
Rice and Theremin are one as she produces the beautiful sounds as though one was listening to someone singing, i.e. “Plaisir D’amour (music Jean-Paul-Egide Martini/lyrics Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian – 1784) sans lyrics – a song Sarah would sing at a wedding, albeit I’d never know why anyone would request it with its negative lyrics about love as it speaks of heartache that lasts a lifetime; or Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Music of the Night” (Phantom of the Opera) that produced a more manly sound.
And then it was time to hear the lovely soprano vocals of Ms. Rice in Sondheim’s “Sand” (Singing Out Loud) – about bitter regrets, love is just sand, as she moved onto more romantic songs and topics, the talented Matthew Martin Ward on piano.
Together with guest artist David Vernon (whose vocals, too, are soft and ethereal) they produced a haunting blend of voices dueting on Scarborough Fair/Canticle (The Graduate). Irving Berlin’s “Suppertime” (As Thousands Cheer 1933), originally sung by Ethel Waters, was filled with sadness and sorrow as Sarah’s dramatic acting abilities shone, this a highlight of the evening.
As I began to hear remnants of what I knew was Sondheim’s wonderful “Not While I’m Around” (Sweeney Todd 1979), I readied myself to hear the lushness of Sarah’s vocals, to be disappointed that it was, again, the Theremin. In all honesty, although the distinct sounds of the instrument and her love for playing it are unique, it does not compare to the enchanting sounds of her voice. My only caveat with Music of the Night would be to say – less Theremin, more Sarah Rice, as she is a consummate performer.
The show is part of Stephen Hanks’ Cabaret Life Productions series. Sarah will be performing this show at Pangea August 18 and September 20 at 7 pm. Highly recommended! (and there’s a nice menu of food choices!)
www.pangeanyc.com 178 2d Ave. (bet. East 11/12 Streets) 212 995-0900