Posted by Broadway Doctor Wednesday, August 25, 2010
This weekend, an associate of mine invited me to check out some hot new female talent, fresh off the Spring Awakeing 1st national tour. Five girls from the show were performing a one-night small cabaret at the Laurie Beechman Theatre at the Westbank Cafe. There were a few other industry big-wigs in the room who I typically run into at these types of things. Even Lin Manuel Miranda snuck in at the last minute, as he surely had heard the buzz too. The five girls were Krystina Alabado, Kayla Foster, Steffi D, Gabby Garza, and Krista Pioppi. They put on an excellent program showcasing their talent, personalities, and singing skills; Krystina Alabado had nerves to sing "Breathe" from In The Heights, to an enthusiastically receptive Miranda (Author and original star of the show).
What makes a good cabaret performance? Let me outline what the girls did, and didn't do that made this an enjoyable evening, and a successful talent showcase.
What the Spring Awakening Girls did Right:
1) Theme. The 5 girls named their cabaret, "VOULEZ-VOUS COUCHER AVEC MOI?" After the song "Lady Marmalade" So the theme was sex, love, and dreams from strong women. Each other aspect of the show fit into this theme they had chosen. The songs reflected, and other anecdotes were all related.
2) Variety. It wasn't that the girls just sang, before each set, they would also answer questions about their "first kisses" or "what they look for in a guy." It was to show off their personalities, their humor, and their ability to carry the attention of the room. This is vitally important for this type of performance, when industry people are there solely to judge talent. Variety makes the show more entertaining, and spontaneous.
3) Audience involvement. Good cabaret performances will always try to involve and interact with the audience. Before the program, on of the girls, Steffi D (who also acted as host) took anonymous questionnaires from the audience admitting love advice, embarrassing stories, or scandalous secrets. There were then read aloud periodically, but at entirely planned times. The whole event was organized down to the minute. But the fact the girls included the audience made them feel like their stories contributed to the success of the performance. Subsequently, there wasn't too much audience interaction that the show dragged, it was all very motivated.
4) Surprise special guests. At two points in the show, some of the girls pulled guest artists onstage to perform with them whether to play an instrument or sing a duet. In this case, they were talented young men. One of whom, Matt Shingledecker, will be the next replacement for Tony in West Side Story on Broadway (singing a duet from WSS), and the other, Jake Epstein starred on canadian television show Degrassi. Both men are Spring Awakening alumni as well, and again offered a little something extra to the show. All around, there was a lot of young talent that got their time in the spotlight.
5) Rehearsed. You can tell the girls put a lot of time rehearsing for this show, or that they'd done this type of show before. Things like choreography for group numbers add an extra level of polish and quality. **See the above video.
6) Flow. The show moved fluidly, all the elements came together astonishingly well. It was just the right length, under 90 minutes. Each girl got to sing two songs, and many chose different styles. Special recognition for Steffi D for maintaining the momentum of the show as host.
What They Should Have Done:
I have one suggestion for these girls, as they continue this sort of cabaret performance, which I wouldn't be surprised may end up on the Joe's Pub stage before the end of the year. My suggestion is this: work on reordering the group numbers. The girls opened with two group songs from Spring Awakening, the music they are known for. From there they went into their solo performances, and later performed a group Spice Girls number, and closed with "Lady Marmalade," singing "VOULEZ-VOUS COUCHER AVEC MOI?" The title of their program.
What they should have done, is opened with "Lady Marmalade" as a group. This sets up the entire following program, it's high energy, and showcases all the singers; they all get solos. It establishes the theme. I would subsequently, put the Spring Awakening songs last, perhaps as a two-song encore. Most of the audience knows these girls from Spring Awakening, and it would be best left as a surprise at the end, singing the music they're known for. At this type of cabaret, the girls want to show off their other talents and personalities; not lock themselves into a Spring Awakening box. For most of them, this was their first big Broadway show, but this type of cabaret is to set them up for the next big thing. To declare, "We have talent, this is what we like to do." By giving away the Spring Awakening performances first, it's a lot like giving the audience what they want too early... and then what's to wait around for? If there are Spring Awakening fans in the audience, they should have to wait until the end. The girls should put that behind them, and in an encore, pay tribute to their star vehicle. Putting it first seems like a nervous gimmick. Other than that, a lovely show.