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Broadway and country music showcased on local stages over weekend

"Kings & Queens of Country"
"Kings & Queens of Country"
Crowe's Eye Photography

It is not unusual for Examiner.com to attend two or even three separate performing events on any given weekend and most of the time they could not be more disparate. Such was the case when this writer saw Stephanie J. Block at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club Friday and a Dance Kaleidoscope concert, “Kings & Queens of Country,” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre Upperstage on Saturday.

Stephanie J. Block
Mark Sheldon

Block’s appearance at the Cabaret marked the third time she has performed in Indianapolis. The first time was when she was a member of the cast of “Do You Hear the People Sing,” an Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Pops concert featuring the music of lyricist of Alain Boubil and composer Claude-Michel Shonberg in Oct. 2011. The second time was when she performed in a Cabaret fundraiser later that same month and year.

Block is an established Broadway performer whose credits include “Wicked,” “Anything Goes,” “9 to 5: The Musical,” “The Pirate Queen,” “The Boy from Oz” and “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” for which she received a Tony nomination. Most recently she starred in “Little Miss Sunshine,” an off-Broadway musical based on the Academy Award nominated 2006 film.

Pianist Ben Cohn, who is also Block’s music director, and cellist Marjorie Hanna accompanied Block in her set which consisted primary of Broadway show tunes.

Highlights of Block’s program included her interpretation of Scot Alan’s “Never Never Land,” the patter song “Invention,” Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick out of You,” a duet with Dolly Parton (whose voice was on a track) of “I Will Always Love You” and “Children Will Listen” from “Into The Woods.” Block’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was made distinctive by Hanna’s soulful accompaniment on the cello.

“Making Good,” a song written for “Wicked,” but later dropped, was the first of a three songs from the show performed by Block, who told the story of how she was in consideration for the part of Elphaba during its development stage but was later replaced with Idina Menzel. The others were “I’m Not That Girl” and “For Good.” Providing a clue as to why she deserved her Tony nomination was Block’s performance of “Writing on the Wall” from “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.”

Block, who possesses a vibrant mezzo soprano voice, impeccable phrasing, enviable range and formidable stage presence, gave a vocal and dramatic performance worthy of an entertainer with her credentials and talent. The only drawback to an otherwise entertaining show was Block’s often lengthy commentary about her career which only served to slow down the pace of an act that might have been more satisfying had she concentrated more on her music and less on her bio.

In the case of Dance Kaleidoscope’s “Kings & Queens of Country,” — though the concert had entertainment value, it had its issues too. But it wasn’t the dancers who were the problem. One of the most appealing groups of dancers in DK’s history, their musicality, athletic skill and exuberant energy made them a joy to watch. Rarely do they disappoint, even if the theme of a concert in which they perform is misguided. More about that later.

Act 1 consisted of the world premiere of Cynthia Pratt’s “Heart’s Desire,” with choreography set to such songs as Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” “If I Needed You” by Emmylou Harris and Don Williams, “ Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and “All the Road Running ” by Emmylou Harris and Mark Knofler. Though the choreography was interesting, Pratt’s pieces were hardly memorable, leaving this writer to wonder why she didn’t more fully illustrate the lyrics of the songs she chose.

“Deep in the Heart of Country,” another world premiere with choreography by David Hochoy, was featured during Act 2 of the concert. Lighthearted and campy, it was made even more so by the addition of Guy Clark’s costumes which only served to caricature the country western milieu. Highlights included Jillian Godwin and Zach Young in Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”; Tammy Wynettes “Stand by Your Man,” danced by Emily Dyson, Timothy June and Justin David Sears-Watson; Jillian Godwin and Liberty Harris tap-dancing in “Oh Lonesome Me” by Tanya Tucker; and Mariel Greenlee and Caitlin Negron in “Free” by the Zach Brown Band.

This particular concert, meant to marry country music with contemporary dance was disappointing in its inability to capture the essence of a genre of music which simply did not translate well under this approach. With its combination of country music and an idiom born of modern and ballet dance styles, it was akin to hearing rock music sung in operatic style and ultimately a nonsymbiotic clash of cultures.

In addition, the choice of country music as a theme for this particular concert appeared to be a transparent effort to attract new audiences, and therefore market driven in its selection. It was hoped the concert would draw both those who love country music and even those who dislike it. Based on Saturday’s low attendance (and reportedly Friday’s as well), however, it would appear that DK may have miscalculated and thereby, fallen short of attracting either.

For information about the remainder of the Cabaret at the Columbia’s 2013–2014 winter/spring call (317) 275-1169 or visit www.thecabaret.org.

For tickets and information about Dance Kaleidoscope’s “Kings & Queens of Country” which continues through March 16, call (317) 635- 5252 or visit www.irtilive.com.

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