Thanks to her big expressive voice and sparkling personality, Kelli Rabke has developed a good Broadway/musical theatre resume. She draws from it for much of her show at the Metropolitan Room, putting the material in more or less chronological order and offering each song or section as a chapter in the book of her life. The stage was packed to overflowing with musicians led by musical director John Fisher, and the band provided rousing support throughout the evening, which was being recorded for a CD release.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat introduced Broadway audiences to this dynamic talent as the storyteller, so she opens her show with the “Prologue” from Joseph paired with David Friedman’s “Listen to My Heart.” It is never a bad idea to begin a show invoking Nancy LaMott, for whom it was written. After this, she goes back to the beginning of her theatrical life with her first role as Dorothy in the Papermill Playhouse production of The Wizard of Oz, singing “Over the Rainbow” (Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg). She reveals that the song has even more meaning for her now because it is her daughter’s favorite lullaby. I do hope that she sings it to her in a quieter version than the one she does in the show, or this little girl won’t get much sleep at all.
The story of her audition and subsequent casting in Joseph is truly the stuff of fairy tales, and it leads into a medley of still more songs from that show. In a production, sung by different characters, the various songs might work, but in a medley they blur into one long repetitive song. As we follow her through Les Misérables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Children of Eden, and other shows, a sameness sets in. She presents each song pretty much as it was originally done, which doesn’t allow room for intimate moments in spite of the “autobiographical” set-up. This is especially disappointing because her patter is delightfully personal.
Even more detrimental, most of the songs start small and build and build and build. It’s like listening to an evening made up entirely of 11 o’clock numbers, which grows tiring. When it came time for her to really let it all out in her closing number, “The Story Goes On” (Maltby & Shire, from Baby) and “Home” (Charlie Smalls, from The Wiz), she has painted herself into such a corner, that I feared she might hurt herself trying to get even bigger and louder. She and her director, Scott Coulter, seem to have worked on each number individually but neglected to shape the musical arc of the show.
There is one happy exception to all this. Rabke captures every smile, laugh and heart-tug in “Times Like This” (Stephen Flaherty, Lynn Ahrens, from Lucky Stiff) and makes it her own. It is perfect. It makes me look forward to her next cabaret show, now that she’s gotten all these big theatre numbers out of the way.
The Metropolitan Room – November 2
About the Author
Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”