My wife and I had tickets for the latest NAC Pops show this week, and unlike the odd one last time (NAC Pops – Holiday Swing), this was a bit more their style when it comes to non-orchestral “modern music”. They’ll do Broadway or rock or a host of other “pop” sources for music, stick the orchestra in the back playing the music, and throw some good singers up front. I confess, at times, they bury the orchestra. But it’s still fun.
This one was along that line, with eighteen fantastic songs made popular by female artists. To handle vocals, the program had three female ex-Broadway-calibre performers — Katrina Rose Dideriksen (Hairspray, Rent, Grease, Legally Blonde, etc.), Cassidy Catanzaro (American Songbook, backups for big rock stars, songwriter), and Shayna Steele (Rent, Hairspray, Jesus Christ Superstar, huge backup opportunities with larger stars, etc.). Katrina is the young relative newbie, Cassidy is a bit older and richer voice, and Shayna is a bit older still with more experience and a more vibrant voice. They also portrayed themselves that way throughout the night — Katrina was the “rocker”, Cassidy was the experienced singer, and Shayna was the aging (but not old) master with some down-home funk.
The show opened with Katrina singing “Piece of My Heart” (Janis Joplin), and while it was okay, I found her a bit off-putting. It seemed like she was singing it, not embodying it, and some of her vocal stylings didn’t seem to fit the song. This trend would continue for most of the night.
Next up was Shayna with “Dancing in the Street” (Martha Reeves), and she knocked it out of the park. It’s a bit odd to hear the song with a full orchestra backing it up, but it was great.
Cassidy came out to do “So Far Away” (Carole King) and it was clear this girl could sing. The song didn’t challenge her much, and she was holding back, but it was great.
Then it was back to Katrina to do “Flashdance…What A Feeling” (Irene Cara). If you remember the movie, and the scene where this is sang, you know that it starts off REALLY slow. In fact, I remember reading a short article about how the opening slowness is deliberately meant to represent “holding back”, but while I find it TOO slow in the full recording, this version seemed EVEN slower. And worse, when Katrina was singing the slow or up-tempo portions, there was almost no emotional content in the song. The first part is meant to be pain (“It hurts when there’s nothing…”) followed by the joy of dance and music sending all of that pain into oblivion. If she was a B-stage singer at a concert hall, it would have been fine. In an NAC hall with limited audience reaction and energy, it fell kind of flat. And there was something familiar about her that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. More later.
Shayna came back to do “Both Sides Now” (Joni Mitchell) and I hate to knock her, but it was the wrong choice for her age and voice, in my opinion at least. She did a great job, but the Joni Mitchell version at age 25 captured the innocence in the voice, a youthful spirit. Hearing a 40-something woman with a full rich voice doing it seemed odd to me. Good, but not awesome. By contrast, she followed it up with “Freeway of Love” (Aretha Franklin) and it was AMAZING. In addition, hearing the orchestra come in on the horns section was awe-inspiring. It’s not often you hear an orchestra really do justice to some of the simpler stylings in the rock anthems, but when you need a horn or string sound, these are the guys and gals to do it. Fantastic.
Cassidy came back out for another Carole King song, “Up on the Roof”, and it was solid, but not out of the park.
The last single song for the set was “Love is a Battlefield” (Pat Benatar) done as a ballad. Apparently it was originally a ballad, but Benatar turned it into an uptempo rock anthem, and Holly Knight would only license it to them to do a ballad version in the show. It was interesting, and Katrina did a great job (best one of the half for her), but it was a very strange version to hear. Not a Katrina problem, just a song I didn’t enjoy.
The first half closed off with the three of them doing “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman” (Carole King), and the three of them together are a pretty impressive sight. I was hoping there would be more of that in the second half.
As I mentioned above, often the orchestra doesn’t get a whole lot to do on the nights where there are singers and dancers in front of them. I don’t mean they’re not playing, I just mean they are only lightly showcased. Often the conductor throws them a bone and they do one or two instrumentals to show off, but they aren’t usually true showcases for their talents. Tonight’s “bone” was “Pick Up the Pieces” (The Average White Band), and you’ve heard it a thousand times for TV shows and movies probably without having any idea what it was. Here is a version on Youtube:
But for a “bone”, it was kind of fun to hear the orchestra play it in full.
Katrina did the lead for “I Love Rock and Roll” (Joan Jett) with the other two handling backup duties, and while Katrina was trying to sell herself as the “rocker”, I was still feeling like she was reminding me of someone I’d seen before. And it suddenly hit me, because I’d read her bio at the start of the show. She wasn’t just IN the show “Rent”, she played Mimi. For those of you who aren’t obsessed with the show like I am, Mimi is basically a very young-looking 19 with the possibility that she is lying about her age, dancing in a strip club (it involves a lawn chair and handcuffs apparently), and hooked on drugs. She is extremely immature despite claiming to be otherwise, and her sole purpose in life is to feel good (hence the drugs). Her big number? She is a “cat” who wants to go out and “howl at the moon” — “I want to go oouUUTT tonight”. And one of her signature moves is to dance really hard and shake her legs like she can’t sit still, along with a staccato singing voice. Which is EXACTLY what it looked like Katrina was doing. An older version of Mimi singing rock songs. And why I was seeing her as familiar — I hadn’t seen Katrina before, I was seeing an echo of the Mimi character.
And while I like Mimi, I wouldn’t want to be friends with her. She’s shallow, immature, flighty, etc. Not what you’re looking for in a “power ballad singer”. But I digress.
Next up was a solo for Katrina, “These Dreams” (Heart). The song slows it down a bit, a bit more of a softer ballad. And out of NOWHERE, comes this fantastic voice. She did an AWESOME job of it. No Mimi, no playing like a wannabe 30-something ex-rocker chick, just Katrina singing normal. Freaking awesome version.
The next three were quick hits…Shayna doing an okay job with “Best (Simply The Best)” (Tina Turner), Cassidy doing a good job with “I Feel The Earth Move” (Carole King), and Cassidy again giving a solid rendition of “You’ve Got A Friend” (Carole King) with okay audience sing-along for some of the verses.
Katrina came back out, I was hoping for another awesome song, and we were back to Mimi doing “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” (Pat Benatar). The horns were great in the song, while the string section seemed mostly along for the ride.
Then Shayna closed out the solos with “What’s Love Got To Do With It” (Tina Turner). It wasn’t the best song she did all night, and I wondered if part of it was the repetitive nature of the second half of the song. She just seemed to fizzle a bit. Might just be me.
And then the finale.
All three came out and did “Proud Mary” (Tina Turner) with all three of them taking a turn as lead vocals (Shayna, Cassidy and Katrina). Great way to end, including for the obvious encore.
So overall, a much more enjoyable evening than the last time where we saw a scat version of the Dreidel song. 🙂