By Tom Alvarez
Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner
Those fortunate enough to have seen Patina Miller during her recent two night engagement at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club were in the presence of a rare talent who is comfortable in any medium be it on stage, television or in films. This reviewer saw the Tony Award winning singer/actor/dancer Friday.
Miller who won her Tony in 2013 for her role as the Leading Player in the Broadway revival of "Pippin," is currently in the second season of the CBS's hit series "Madam Secretary." She is also well known for her roles in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Parts I & 2."
For her Cabaret debut Miller was accompanied by pianist James Sampliner, an I.U. Jacob's School of Music graduate who is also a sought after orchestrator, arranger, record producer, and percussionist. Sampliner who has appeared previously at the Cabaret with other artists, demonstrated uncommon musicianship. Also masterful were his fellow musicians George Farmer on bass and Perry Cavari on drums.
Even without the stellar musicians backing her, the charismatic Miller would have commanded the sold out room, simply by the force and caliber of her extraordinary talent and showmanship.
Making Miller's show even more noteworthy was her set list, which was among the finest this reviewer has absorbed during six years of covering the Cabaret. Heavy on Broadway show tunes, the program also included songs that showed off Miller's jazz and blues capabilities.
The beauteous Miller, projected warmth and charm during easy banter with the friendly audience as she wittily shared anecdotes about her life and career. Telling the audience that it was only after her mother placed pressure on her to overcome her shyness and sing during a church service— Miller sang an excerpt of the hymn "His Eye is on the Sparrow." It was that experience, according to Carnegie Mellon University graduate Miller that led to her falling in love with singing and her eventual pursuit of an entertainment career.
It is difficult for this writer to single out any one song because Miller brought something undeniably special to each and every one she performed. They included Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Orange Colored Sky," "Fever," "No One is Alone," a medley from "Hair," and another from "Pippin."
A highlight of the show was Miller's loving acknowledgement of her husband David Mars, who was in the audience, through a song called "Beautiful Surprise," by India Arie. Another took place during the show's conclusion when the Pageland, South Carolina native encouraged students who were present to "dream big" and "never let anybody tell you that you can't do something." She followed her comments with a mash up of Sondheim's "Everybody Says Don't," and "Life is But a Dream." For an encore, Miller sang "Ms. Celie's Blues" from "The Color Purple."
Preceding Miller's show was a group of accomplished students from Cabaret partner Ball State University. Demonstrating that the future of cabaret is in good hands was Sam Wisenden who performed "Someone Else's Skin" from "Catch Me if You Can" and Kiersten Hodgens and Kayla Robertson in a spirited duet of "What About Love." They were accompanied by Cameron Tragesser on piano.
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