By Tom Alvarez, Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner
October 5, 2013
If ever there was an entertainer who gives an audience 100 % plus some, it is the dynamic singer, dancer, and actor Valarie Pettiford. A protégé of legendary choreographer Bob Fosse, the Tony nominated performer appeared Thursday on the first of a two night engagement at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club on downtown’s Monument Circle.
Pettiford’s theater credits include “Fosse” for which she was nominated for a Tony Award, “The Wild Party,” “Show Boat,” and more. She also performs her one-woman shows coast to coast, acts on television (she has a recurring role on HBO’s “True Blood”), in film, and is a recording artist. Her current album, “Velvet Sky,” which is a collection of lullabies, is available on iTunes, Amazon and other online retailers.
Pettiford, who was accompanied by her exceptional music director Ron Abel on the piano, opened her set at the Cabaret with “All That Jazz.” From the very onset, she captured the full-house audience with her powerful vocal and dramatic talents, sultry movement informed by her Fosse training and high octane energy that she consistently maintained throughout her show.
Pettiford’s program, which she informed the audience was “a celebration of life, love, icons and ‘other stuff,’” was unique for its variety and mix of styles, all of which showcased her tremendous rich and full-bodied voice, extensive range and versatility. Possessing a lovable personality that was bold and sassy, yet vulnerable, with a seductive quality reminiscent of Eartha Kitt, Pettiford demonstrated originality and uniqueness as an entertainer par excellence.
Favorite Act 1 moments in Pettiford’s show included “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” Latin standards “Bésame Mucho” and “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás,” and “Bill,” which Pettiford sang as Julie in a touring production of “Showboat.”
Also memorable was Pettiford’s soulful interpretation of Abel’s exquisite arrangement of “Midnight at the Oasis,” in which he incorporated the melody from “The Girl from Ipanema”, and “Always,” her tribute to her musical idol Patsy Cline who turned this Irving Berlin song into a country music hit.
Act II highlights included Pettiford singing a Duke Ellington medley that included “Satin Doll,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Mood Indigo,” and “Take the A Train,” among others.
Pettiford showed her soft, reflective side as a ballad singer when she sang “Velvet Sky,” a touching lullaby from her album of the same title.
Saying that she considers herself foremost a dancer, Pettiford demonstrated signature Fosse moves, including his iconic jazz hands, when she sang “Me and My Shadow,” and a wildly exuberant rendition of “Mein Herr,” from “Cabaret.”
After closing the show with “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” which she said was mentor Fosse’s motto, Pettiford was awarded a standing ovation from the audience. Afterwards, she sang “Come Rain or Come Shine” as an encore.
While introducing Pettiford prior to her performance, Cabaret managing and artistic director Shannon Forsell informed the audience that Pettiford was conducting a master class for students during her brief stay in Indy. Later, Pettiford herself shared that she was asked by the Fosse family to reconstruct Fosse’s choreography in order to preserve it for future generations.
This writer could not help but feel impressed that Pettiford, with a direct link to an American master, is sharing Fosse’s legacy, through her amazing talent, in such a long lasting, meaningful way, through these efforts. It speaks not only to Pettiford’s generosity but also her selfless commitment to passing on art forms she loves and has majorly contributed to.
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