Becca Southworth

June 20, 2011

“Add a Dash of Diva”

Laurie Beechman Theatre  –  June 7

In her recent debut show, “Add a Dash of Diva,” at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, Becca Southworth—who resembles a young and mischievous Blair Brown—took on the formidable task of singing songs associated with her favorite divas from her childhood to the present day. How many people could comfortably sample the songbooks of Barbra Streisand, Patsy Cline, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Billie Holiday, and a smattering of ’80s pop singers…and do it with aplomb and great cheer?

Perfectly content with her own considerable gifts, Southworth rarely tried to imitate her chosen divas (an exception was her near-perfect capturing of Alanis Morrisette’s clipped phrasing, but that was for comic effect), but celebrated them in her own way, through her own blessed pipes. Likewise, she didn’t give bios or anecdotes about the singers, or even say much about herself. Southworth just expressed her appreciation for the singers and let loose on the songs. Her angle was mostly for laughs, but that in no way diminished her vocal and interpretive skills.

Southworth opened her show with the well-worn “I Will Survive” (Freddie Perren, Dino Fekaris), but how long has it been since we’ve seen a woman (as opposed to a female impersonator) perform the song? Still, she threw around enough attitude and hair to make any drag queen proud, gathering hearty laughs along the way. She then eased into one of Billie Holiday’s signature songs, “Gloomy Sunday” (Rezsö Seress, László Sávor, Sam M. Lewis), discarding the previous song’s camp like an out-of-date rhinestone jacket. Southworth then thanked her mother for influencing her when they used to harmonize in the car. The singer marched into the audience to find her mother, pulled her out of her seat, and they broke into a verse and chorus of “Chapel of Love” (Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector).

And so, Becca Southworth demonstrated fearlessness, just three songs into the act.

There didn’t seem to be a style that challenged her, whether it was early girl-group rock ‘n’ roll (wailing “I met him at the candy store” at the beginning of George Morton, Jeff Barry, and Ellie Greenwich’s “Leader of the Pack”), a middle of the road ballad (a sincere take on “The Way We Were” by Marvin Hamlisch and Alan & Marilyn Bergman, unfortunately marred by tangled lyrics), or energetic rhythm & blues (John Fogerty’s “Proud Mary,” complete with Tina Turner’s choreography).

Adding to the festivities were her two very game back-up singers: Frank Galgano and her husband, Trevor Southworth. They contributed not only pleasing harmonies, but clever choreography and ridiculous costumes, leading one to wonder how much fun the rehearsals must have been—yet they dutifully stayed in character. One memorable bit (as part of a Pop Princesses of the ’80s medley of Madonna, Debbie Gibson, Tiffany, Cyndi Lauper, and Belinda Carlisle songs) had the back-up boys moving their arms together to form a giant globe on “Heaven is a Place on Earth” (Rick Nowels, Ellen Shipley). Another had them wearing braided hairpieces, curled up on the ends, for “Lonely Goatherd” (Rodgers & Hammerstein)—her one homage to musical theatre—while Galgano moved a dot along a poster with lyrics so the audience could sing along to the nonsense syllables.

Southworth faced her greatest challenge with the Whitney Houston hit “One Moment in Time” (Albert Hammond, John Bettis), a vocal highwire act that threatened to have her screeching the high notes, but she threw caution to the wind, went for it, and got it. Afterwards, earning more laughs, she said, “See why she scares me? She’s so high!”

The only mistake here was choosing “A Piece of Sky” (Alan & Marilyn Bergman, Michel Legrand), an iconic song for Barbra Streisand in Yentl, as an encore. Streisand threw everything she had into that movie and, especially, into that last song when she bellowed off the back of the ferryboat. Anybody, including Southworth, could not help but come up short.

Musical director Jeffrey Biering offered imaginative arrangements and used drummer Michael Blancaflor and bassist Nick Grinlinton to great effect. The show was apparently put together without a director. Although there was no rhyme or reason to the song order, it worked for this theme and contributed to the sense of whimsy and surprise. Southworth knows exactly who she is and how to work an audience.

“A Little Dash of Diva” offered unexpected pleasure after unexpected pleasure. It will be interesting to see where Becca Southworth goes next—whether she challenges herself to be a serious chanteuse or continues to wow as a first-rate entertainer. Either direction would offer rewards for her audience.



About the Author

Kevin Scott Hall performed in cabaret clubs for many years and recorded three CDs, including “New Light Dawning” in 1998, which received national airplay. He also worked at the legendary piano bar, Rose’s Turn, and has taught cabaret workshops and directed shows since 1995. Kevin earned his MFA in Creative Writing at City College of New York. He is an adjunct professor in the Theatre and English departments at City College and Borough of Manhattan Community College. His novel, “Off the Charts!” was published in 2010, and his memoir, “A Quarter Inch from My Heart” (Wisdom Moon), in 2014. Kevin writes a monthly column and entertainment features for Edge Media Network, writes reviews for, and freelances for other publications.