Ahhh YouTube, that omnipresent giver of precious baby animal videos and just about everything else entertaining. The current generation was practically raised on it, and it is surely a trying task for them to remember a time when such-and-such iconic song from a given movie couldn’t be called up instantly on the Internet regardless of their location.
As I entered the Ark for Signature Theatre’s production Music in the Movies II, I kept one worrying question in mind: will cabarets ever be deemed obsolete in the face of all the wish fulfillment our electronic devices have to offer? After all, doesn’t everyone prefer Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” from the late legend herself, and really no one else?
I am happy to say that Wednesday night’s performance suggested a kind “no” to both questions. Carolyn Cole, Kellee Knighten Hough, Vishal Vaidya, Steven Walker, and Zak Sandler performed twenty-four songs for a highly appreciative audience. Variety was the spice of the production, with songs pulled from silver screen classics, Disney cartoons, Woody Allen cult favorites, and–of course–Hollywood musicals.
The show was a highly intimate affair, and not just because the audience was close enough to get a glimpse of a uvula shaking every once in a while. An atmosphere befitting the cinema theme was tastefully tailored by the Signature team, though everything was done in moderation as to avoid the gimmick pitfall. Nine small tables were arranged snugly between the stage and more permanent seating, each draped with a simple red cloth reminiscent of a theatre curtain. Popcorn, soda, and candy were the snacks of the hour, and that–wisely I think–was the extent of it. A myriad of small flickering candles and the blue haze from the stage lights lent themselves to the cozy and cool feel simultaneously, as though we had all filed into a good friend’s basement for a late night jam session.
Director Matthew Gardiner and his cast are deserving of praise for their unique creation.
When I say “jam session,” I of course mean the kind of session where everyone knows what they’re doing. No song was rendered two-dimensional, parsed down to an expression of simple sadness or joy – emotion and tactics shifted this way and that nearly as often as the notes did. The three main singers – Hough, Cole, and Vaidya – handled their songs with deft skill, using their strong voices effectively to convey each song’s unique content. Such is to be expected, of course, given the credentials these singers have amassed.
Cabarets will keep on keeping on because live music, the sensation of a person’s voice vibrating between one’s ribs, is hard to knock. It would be immensely surprising if it fell completely out of fashion. Ms. Cole was a smash hit with the crowd when she sang a pouty “I Wanna Be Loved By You,” made famous by Marilyn Monroe. Ms. Hough paid a wonderful tribute to Whitney Houston with “I Have Nothing” – she made the song her own instead of attempting to make a poor copy. She may have shined brightest with “Miss Celie’s Blues.” Mr. Vaidya was exceptional in his rendition of the King’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Steven Walker, mostly the guitar accompanist, came forward to sing a charming “Moon River” towards the end of the arrangement.
The format of the production kept things light and moving along at an ideal pace. Sometimes the next number was formally introduced, and sometimes it was interwoven with the previous song in a seamless transition. The performers moved about the stage, bringing microphones where they needed to be as they shared stories of their first awed exposures to the great music that has been written for the screen. In terms of costuming, the five individuals on stage appear to have been told “is there an outfit you feel comfortable in? Great, wear that to the show.” It was theatre without much fuss, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed that.
From the opener “Let’s Go to the Movies” to the bonus song “I Believe I Can Fly” at the production’s close an hour and a half later, Music in the Movies II is an excellent slice of casual yet obviously professional cabaret. Director Matthew Gardiner and his cast are deserving of praise for their unique creation.
Running Time: 90 minutes.
Music in the Movies II will run from September 5th through the 8th only at Signature Theatre, located at 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington VA 22206. Tickets may be purchased online at, or by calling the box office at 703 820 9771.