The five women who perform Kalamazoo’s New Vic Theater’s Big Night Out sing old standards, Broadway classics, as well as songs from more contemporary musicals, and through them, offer what they describe as “a celebration of life.”
“Everything we go through in life changes us — the good and the bad,” Jennifer Furney said from the stage. “And if we’re going to celebrate life, we have to celebrate all of it.”
Directed by Hal Hobson-Morse, and with little more than his onstage accompaniment on a baby grand, three microphones and a false proscenium created with some draped fabric, the nearly two-hour show offers a sweet evening of a variety of music that evokes an array of emotions and life experiences, from love and longing, to parenthood, war and more, sung by a complementary cast of singers.
The women, all dressed in variations of red, white and black, each bring their own style, and for the most part, the show is beautifully cast and executed in the intimate space of the New Vic, much like a bar lounge, but with sweets and snacks instead of cocktails.
The songs range from those created by the best of 20th Century American composers and songwriters including Cole Porter and Richard Rogers to a medley of lullabies to samplings from beloved Broadway musicals, including Showboat, Meet Me in St. Louis, Miss Saigon and Waitress, sung with passion and spirit by five distinct performers, each with her own unique flair.
Wendy Wheeler’s stunning soprano is big and dramatic, if not operatic, and with excellent vibrato she really makes the audience feel the sorrow in So Big, So Small, and the longing in When I Fall in Love. Likewise, the yearning in Laura Latiolais’ elegant and rich rendition of Night and Day and If He Walked into My Life is palpable, and her phrasing is exquisite.
Valerie Miller genuinely transforms herself as she takes on distinct characters in her lovely and often funny renditions of songs from contemporary musicals such as When He Sees Me from Waitress, among others. Jennifer Furney, who’s been singing folk music on this stage for decades, offers poignancy with I Never Knew His Name, from The Civil War: An American Musical and a very nice rendition of Sorta Love Song. Anne Louise Coryell has more heart than training or polish, it seems, and is better on the guitar than she is vocally, though she gives her all to some of American music’s best tunes, including Lady is a Tramp and Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man of Mine.
And ultimately, altogether, these five create some lovely harmonies and original interpretations of some wonderful music. If not exactly a huge night out, it’s an overall enjoyable evening.
Big Night Out
New Vic Theatre
August 11-Sept. 16