Last night The Annenberg Theatre played host to Chris Isaacson's Upright Cabaret and the latest installment of his American Icon Series, RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT, which pays tribute to the Latin pop-rock music made famous by Gloria Estefan, Ricky Martin, Santana and more. There were many things to love about this upscale Cabaret production! To start – the incredible talents of three of Broadway and Television's hottest talents – Lesli Margherita, Rogelio Douglas Jr. and Lexi Lawson. I have played audience to each of the three of them as they starred in various theatrical productions and it was a pleasure to share the evening with them in this unique genre. Since there is a bit of criticism to follow, let me start by saying I am a big fan of Upright Cabaret and would urge you to go to any of their productions at a venue near you. Fortunately for those near La Mirada, Thousand Oaks or Hollywood, you still have the chance to see this high quality production. And, if you don't have tickets yet I would say find a way to get them! There are many theatrical events in Southern California that promise an evening worthy of your time and your hard earned money --- Upright Cabaret delivers!
The three artists were backed by a pretty stellar Rhythm Section – Matt Lucich on Drums, Carter Wallace on Bass, Justin Smith on Guitar and Musical Director Jamieson Trotter on Piano. Trotter, with his intensely passionate mastery at the keyboard, was great fun to watch throughout the evening and, in fact, his bouncing mane of curly hair --- hard to miss during any high-energy number -- nearly became a fourth performer in the show. Trotter was also credited with all of the arrangements which were, for the most part, very strong --- however nearly every arrangement had an obligatory musical break that seemed, in many cases, to wander on too long --- especially since there were no trumpets or strings or percussion instruments to add the interest necessary in this kind of music. It would be a great investment to add a trumpet!! And some judicial editing of the band arrangements would suit the show well for future incarnations.
The show was hosted by the charismatic and engaging producer, Chris Isaacson. I believe that he might have done well to take on more of the "between song banter" because the cast often looked to be floundering a bit and unsure about which song and which singer came next. To their credit – they kept it rolling --- but perhaps a more well-crafted script and the talents of Mr. Isaacson would help the flow.I realize that this was first performance and things will all "improve with age" for the balance of the run.
The sound mix was uneven – mostly erring in favor of the band and oft times leaving the artists to strain to sing over the orchestration. I think more careful attention needs to be paid to the mix so the artists are not forced to scream over the band in all of the really driving numbers – and, in some cases, still not be heard effectively. The lighting was perfectly suited to the feel of the evening and the multi-media visuals which served as a backdrop to the artists throughout the show were the perfect compliment and added much slickness to the cabaret.
This production is consistently strong. The artists were on fire during the opening number "The Rhythm Is Gonna Get You" and their harmonies, when you could hear them over the mix, were right on the money. Their energy and enthusiasm was contagious. Lesli Margherita's "Anything For You" perfectly showed off the wonderful raw quality of her vocal style – she brought an actor's perspective to the pop tune and gave it an extra depth, although the emotion, at times, seemed a little contrived. She also scored with "Get On Your Feet" however this was one of those cases where the orchestra breaks were excessive and she was forced to dance around the stage a bit awkwardly while waiting to come back in with the vocal again … and again. Perhaps her finest moment was "Coming Out Of The Dark" which was stunning.