‘Chicago’ star takes a break from Broadway for Cabaret debut

Posted by admin on August 20, 2012

By Tom Alvarez, Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner
August 5, 2012

Broadway veteran Carol Woods has been playing Matron “Mama” Thornton in the long-running musical “Chicago” off and on since 1997. Soon, however, she’ll turn over her role to an understudy in the show at New York’s Ambassador Theatre for a weekend appearance in “Carol Woods: Singin’ the Blues on Broadway,” Friday, Aug. 19 and Saturday, Aug. 20, at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club in downtown Indianapolis.

Woods’ Broadway credits include “One Mo’ Time,” the 2001 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies,” “Smokey Joe’s Café,” Neil Simon’s “The Goodbye Girl” and “Stepping Out,” directed by Tommy Tune. Off Broadway, she starred in “Taking My Turn” and “First Lady Suite” at the Public Theater.

Internationally known, Woods performed for England’s Princess Margaret and Prince Andrew, starred in the London production of “One Mo’ Time” and performed the title role in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” at the Royal National Theatre. She was nominated for an Olivier Award for her outstanding performance in the London production of “Blues in the Night.”

Also a screen actress, Woods was a 2008 Grammy Awards performer for the nominated soundtrack “Across the Universe,” a film in which she appeared. Woods’ nightclub and cabaret performances span the globe from London to Tokyo and Las Vegas to Honolulu. In New York, she has appeared at Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops, The Village Gate, B. Smith’s, Rainbow and Stars, Michael’s Pub and Town Hall.

Reached by phone at her home in Jamaica, Queens, New York, Woods says she is looking forward to returning to Indianapolis where she once played in a touring company of “Chicago” at the Murat Theatre back in 2009. Also a member of that cast was Tom Wopat, as Billy Flynn, who appeared at the Cabaret in July.

Woods, who began her career performing in nightclubs on the “Chitlin’ Circuit,” and at venues in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, says that she loves doing concerts “because I can reach more people.” She also enjoys smaller spaces because “people talk back to you.”

Saying that her “favorite music includes songs from the American Songbook,” Woods adds, “I also love gospel because it was in the church where I started singing.” She continues, “The fact is I just love good music, so my show at the Cabaret will be an eclectic mix of show tunes, jazz and blues.”

On Saturday, from 1-3 p.m., Woods will also conduct a master class, during which she will share her experiences with aspiring singers and work with them on such performing aspects as song choice and interpretation. Referring to her philosophy of passing on her knowledge, Woods says, “I am always the oldest in the cast so I am a master class (laughs). I like to share everything I do because that’s why we’re here. I believe that we would save a whole lot of money and the poor psychiatrists would go out of business if we could just learn how to communicate and help one another. Sharing our past experiences helps people along the way. I remember asking someone, ‘What do I do with my hands?’ ‘When you are singing,’ they said, ‘just be natural. Just let it be. Just do whatever comes into your mind. Just relax and let it come out.’”

Woods says she believes in passing the torch to young people, much like her own mentor, Margaret Whiting, a popular singer in the ‘40s and ‘50s, did for her. “She made an indelible mark in my life. She was one of my best friends. I did a tribute to Johnny Mercer with Margaret and Julius LaRosa, and we traveled around the country together doing the show. A lot of my music and interpretations are influenced by Margaret. She was so dear to me. I went up and sang at a birthday party for her at the Actors Home. Those experiences made me a better person and a better entertainer.”

When asked what message she would like to send to those coming or thinking about coming to see her Cabaret show, Woods says, “Tell them to bring their good time because I am bringing mine. We are going to have a good time — a lot of laughs, a lot of good music and a lot of sharing funny stories.”

For tickets and information about “Carol Woods: Singin’ the Blues on Broadway” and her master class, call (317) 275-1169 or visit www.thecabaret.org.

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