Cabaret series honors legendary singers
Richmond theater aficionado Mark Singer, 69, has attended performances in major cities all over the world, but he is still impressed by the “fantastic talent” he sees among Richmond performers.
Because of the quality of local talent, Singer subscribes to Legends on Grace, a series of cabaret-like performances presented by the Richmond Performing Arts Alliance (RPAA).
RPAA developed the Legends on Grace series for the 2018-19 season as part of its three-year strategic plan adopted by its Advisory Board. The series helps RPAA meet two of its goals: to fully utilize its performing arts venues and to support local artists.
Based in Rhythm Hall, a smaller performance space within the Dominion Energy Center, the Legends on Grace performances provide a cabaret setting where attendees sit at tables with fellow audience members and enjoy drinks and an optional buffet dinner.
“It’s lovely to watch such an intimate performance,” Singer said. The setting allows not only for interaction among audience members but also between the audience and performers.
Although RPAA has hosted a cabaret series in the past (the last one took place in 2016), that series, Lives of Cabaret Artists, staged performing artists from all over the country.
When RPAA brought back the cabaret series last year, organizers decided to showcase local singers and musicians, in part to fulfill its mission of supporting local artists, but also to provide audiences the opportunity to see their favorite Richmond performers — the legends in the RVA theater community — in a new setting.
The quality of the series has not been sacrificed since focusing on local performers. “They would fit in well in Manhattan because of their level of talent and sophistication,” Singer said.
The Legends on Grace series sold out last year; this year, RPAA expanded to include four rather than three artists and multiple performances of each show.
Part of what makes these performances so entertaining, Singer says, is the music. Although the audience for Legends on Grace is diverse, the performances tend to appeal to an older demographic because the artists perform music from a bygone era. “If you’re older and you like legends,” Singer said, “you’re in for a nice evening with great entertainment.”
In October, Desirée Roots, who recently captivated audiences as Aunt Em, Addaperle and Evilene in The Wiz, performed greatest hits from Motown, including songs by The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and The Temptations, with fellow performers Jerold Solomon, Cat Abriam and Zakiyyah Jackson.
On December 7, the RVA Rat Pack, starring “Mister Showtime” Scott Wichmann with Alexander Sapp, Jason Marks, and Anthony Cosby-Knowles, will perform the music of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr, and others in a Vegas nightclub environment. Singer, who has attended Wichmann’s performances before, said, “Scott could go to Vegas tomorrow.”
Many people tell Wichmann he was born too early because of his love of the music of the Sinatra era. He considers himself a caretaker of the music of that period and is thrilled to see how much audiences love the songs.
“The world gives us enough to fret about,” Wichmann said. “It’s wonderful to step into this little bubble,” an environment he describes as “sophistication with a wink and a smile.”
On February 8, singer and songwriter Susan Greenbaum, along with band members Lucy Kilpatrick, Ed Drake, Mike Drake and Chris Parker, will perform songs from Burt Bacharach’s repertoire as well as some originals.
Greenbaum has loved Bacharach’s melodies Bacharach since she was a child. “His melodic sensibility has had an influence on my own songwriting,” she said.
While the Susan Greenbaum Band will perform some of the well-known Bacharach songs sung by Dionne Warwick, she also plans to perform others. For Greenbaum, who feels passionate about so much of Bacharach’s music, the challenge comes in narrowing down the repertory for her performance.
Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli
On May 9, singer Debra Wagoner, starring this month in Always…Patsy Cline, will bring to life the music of legends Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli.
“They influenced me as an artist,” Wagoner said, “particularly in how they used song to express emotion and knew how to tell a story through a song.”
In addition, Wagoner will perform an eclectic mash-up, including country and contemporary pop songs from the 90s.
“These are songs that I enjoy singing, that speak to my heart and say the things I want to say,” Wagoner said.
[Ed note: The author is one of 15 members of the RPAA’s Associates Board; her term expires in December.]
Tickets for the Legends on Grace series can be purchased online at DominionEnergyCenter.com or by calling 1-800-514-3849 or visiting the box office at Altria Theater.