By Tom Alvarez, Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner
October 28, 2011
At A Wicked Cabaret, Friday’s fundraiser for the Cabaret at the Columbia Club, it was announced that Stephanie J. Block, the featured performer, soon would be taking over for Sutton Foster in the lead role in Anything Goes on Broadway.
The Cabaret’s managing and artistic director, Shannon Forsell, offered that information during introductory remarks to the crowd of nearly 250 who packed the Crystal Terrace room, paying up to $150 a ticket for a silent auction, wine tasting, dinner and the performance.
Presumably Forsell was providing evidence regarding the quality and caliber of the evening’s entertainment. It’s safe to say that by evening’s end, those present who were not familiar with Block (and considering what Broadway tickets cost these days) realized later what a deal they got.
Block is best known for playing Elphaba in the Broadway and first national touring company of Wickedand for creating the roles of Grace O’Malley in The Pirate Queen and Liza Minnelli in The Boy From Oz(opposite Hugh Jackman).
Accompanied by pianist Matt Gallagher and cellist Adriana Contina, the beauteous Block performed a program that showed off her powerhouse voice, broad range and tremendous dramatic talent. Add to that a powerful delivery and limitless energy, and her performance was anything but ordinary. In fact, it was simply sensational.
Block opened her show with Kander and Ebb’s “Ring Those Bells” (from Liza with a Z) and “Maybe This Time” (Cabaret) – two of Liza’s signature songs. Like others in the show, they represented songs that were tied to shows she had performed during her career. In this case, both songs were performed by Minnelli.
During “I Could Have Been a Sailor” (Boy from Oz), which segued into “Woman” (Pirate Queen), Block electrified the crowd with vocals that demonstrated her musical prowess and passion.
“Never Neverland (Fly Away )” by Scott Alan, “Something Beautiful” by Stephen Flaherty, and “Invention” by Scott Burkell and Paul Loesel were tunes performed by Block that showed off her versatility.
Block continued without an intermission, performing songs that were chosen to relate to the A Wicked Cabaret theme. Paying tribute to The Wizard of Oz, she sang a sweet and childlike, rather than the typical wistful, version of “Over the Rainbow,” and a playful intepretation of “Ding Dong.”
“I’m a talker,” said the gregarious performer with a bigger-than-life personality, who then proceeded to tell a long but interesting story about her early involvement in the development of Wicked (even prior to the selection of Idina Menzel, whom Block later replaced in the role of Elphaba on Broadway). Then she launched into I’m Not That Girl and the musical’s climactic and best-known song, “Defying Gravity.”
During her last selection, Block gave a preview of the new chapter in her career when she sang “Anything Goes,” the title song from the show she’s about to star in. During the middle of the song, she jokingly informed the audience that she would not be performing “the nine-minute tap dance” included in the number. It’s a showstopper that she says is “giving me bloody feet” in rehearsals.
“This is really the very last song, because this is all I got,” said Block as she paid tribute to the late Nancy LaMott (whom many consider to be one of the greatest interpreters of the American songbook) during her encore. Ending the show on a quiet note, she sang LaMott’s poignant ballad “We Can Be Kind.”
Prior to the main attraction, Forsell took the opportunity to promote the Cabaret’s educational program to her audience of donors and supporters. Cabaret performers, many of whom are nationally renowned, often give master classes to students while they are town for their performances.
Three talented young singers who participated in the program were then introduced. They included Patrick Dinnsen, a North Central graduate who attends Elon University, Ian Williams, another North Central graduate who attends the University of Michigan, and Indianapolis resident Katrina Gossett.
Dinnsen, a musical theater major, sang “Who I’d Be” from Shrek. Williams, who is pursuing a dual degree in vocal performance and theater arts, sang “Marry Me A Little” from Company. Both young men possessed presence and vocal abilities that portend promising theatrical careers.
Gossett, who is physically challenged, sang “Times Like This” from Lucky Stiff, which contained lyrics such as “The kind of eyes that welcome you, the minute you walk in, a tender glance you simply can’t refuse, at times like this a girl could use, a dog,”
Sitting in a wheelchair, with her guide dog at her side, Gossett thoroughly connected with an audience, visibly moved and inspired by her humor and dignity.
For tickets and information about the remainder of the 2011 Cabaret at the Columbia Club season, call (317) 275-1169 or visit www.TheCabaret.org.
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"One of Indianapolis' most fashionable downtown nightspots..."Tom Alvarez, Examiner.com