By Tom Alvarez, Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner
August 11, 2012
On temporary leave from Broadway’s “Chicago,” in which she plays Matron “Mama” Thornton, Carol Woods unquestionably demonstrated the formidable singing chops that earned her that role during “Carol Woods: Singin’ the Blues on Broadway,” Friday at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club in downtown Indianapolis. Her show repeats Saturday, Aug. 11 at 8 p.m.
Woods also demonstrated that in the best show business tradition she is definitely a trouper and that “the show must go on.” That’s according to Cabaret manager and artistic director, Shannon Forsell, who told the audience when introducing Woods that a series of weather-related issues had caused flight delays and cancellations, and that Woods didn’t arrive in Indianapolis until 6:30 p.m. — right before the show.
Adding to her woes, the singer’s luggage did not arrive with her, which necessitated that Cabaret staff had to do some last minute shopping to secure her a dress, shoes and false eyelashes in order for Woods to be presentable on stage.
Elegantly dressed in a long purple gown with matching bolero jacket trimmed in sequins, Thornton looked a bit harried but no worse for the wear when she took to the stage. After feigning disgust with the airline and the hurricane weather down south that ultimately caused her travel and luggage problems, she then gleefully launched into a program of Broadway, jazz, blues and standards — many with them uniquely arranged — that showcased her massive voice, impressive range and vocal control and a stage presence that was larger than life.
Accompanied on the piano by her music director, Jason Buelow, who also had his share of weather-related problems as he made his way to Indy to play with her, Woods opened with “Orange Colored Sky.” As she interpreted the song made famous by Nat King Cole, with animated gusto and immense power, it became clear that here was, indeed, a performer that could be classified as one of “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas.”
Establishing her versatility, Woods also left no doubt that she could swing with her rendition of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby.” It was followed by a dedication to composer Marvin Hamlisch, who recently died. She honored him by singing a plaintive “Someone to Watch Over Me” by George Gershwin. That song and others that followed displayed her unique phrasing, which consisted of her ability to significantly draw lyrics out in a slow, deliberate and therefore highly dramatic way.
Woods then gave the three-fourths filled Crystal Room audience a taste of what she does regularly in “Chicago” on the Ambassador Theater stage in New York City, thrilling them when she sang her character’s signature tune, “When You’re Good to Mama.”
Sprinkling her act with stories and anecdotes about her career and show business greats she’s met and worked with along the way, Woods paid homage to Margaret Whiting, a popular singer in the ’40s and ‘50s who was her mentor. She ended Act 1 with a blazing crescendo in “Blues in the Night,” a pop standard with music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by Johnny Mercer.
Act 2 of Woods’ show further solidified her credentials as a first-rate entertainer with soulful, expressive singing that revealed her roots — she grew up performing in her grandfather’s church in Jamaica, Queens, New York.
Highlights of Woods’ second set included another Arlen/Mercer standard, “Come Rain or Come Shine,” as well as Billie Holiday’s “Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be) and “God Bless the Child,” a song about which Woods says, “I live by these words; this is my testimony.”
Proof of her comic abilities was no more evident than in her version of Ruth Brown’s double-entendre-laden song, “If I Can’t Sell It, I’ll Sit on It.”
Woods, who wouldn’t be on “The Great White Way” if she wasn’t a gifted actor, also beautifully conveyed poignant warmth and vulnerability in Shirley Horn’s “Here’s To Life,” and when she closed her show with Nancy Lamott’s “The People That You Never Get to Love.”
Throughout Woods’ show there was a bit of confusion between her and Buelow regarding the order of songs that were to be performed. But, considering that a pre-rehearsal was probably very brief or even impossible because of her late arrival, several gaffes made regarding song sequence were easily overlooked. In fact, her candid, self-effacing reaction to them just further endeared her to an audience that clearly appreciated her good natured, transparent showmanship.
Prior to Woods’ show, Kathyrn Brock, a Greenfield (Indiana) Central High School student who was a participant in one of the Cabaret’s master classes — the keystone of its education program — sang “Cry Me a River” and “Stuff Like That There.” Chosen for her potential, Brock showed vocal talent but needs to develop a more relaxed stage presence that can only come with experience. Hopefully, this Cabaret debut will inspire her as she reaches for her goals.
For tickets and information about upcoming Cabaret at the Columbia performances, call (317) 275-1169 or visit www.thecabaret.org.
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