Twin City Squared, one of the many theatre production companies in C-U, has been making headway in distinguishing itself and trying new things. Earlier this year, they staged a production of Ntozke's Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide...When the Rainbow is Enough, a dramatic poem for many voices; later in the summer, they'll put on rock-opera American Idiot by Green Day. But continuing a focus on women's voices (both figurative and literal), this Mother's Day weekend will bring the first Divas' Cabaret, a showcase of five female singers and their commanding performances.
In recent memory, the only "cabaret style" shows in town have been held in the Studio Theatre at Krannert. Twin City will be making use of the Fluid Event center's banquet room space, and setting up enough small tables to seat 100 people at each performance. Gersten admits it's an ambitious goal, and adds that they're "aiming for a cozy cabaret feel."
Galloway and Gersten have gathered talent from multiple sources around town, showcasing performers who have been in productions of their own, as well as the Station Theatre, Parkland Theatre, University of Illinois, and CUTC. They've even scouted two "junior divas" from Central High School and Champaign Park District's Youth Theatre.
In order to get a better sense of just who these women are, and what they will bring to the stage, I asked them each the same question:
SP: If you had to describe your diva style in less than 10 words, what would you say?
Maddie Henson: I'm a girl who likes to sing and entertain!
Maddie's most recent appearance was as Elle Woods in CPD's Legally Blonde, Jr. Although an imperfect vehicle, her co-stars pointed to her as the best part of the show when we interviewed them for SP, and Twin City Squared seems to agree.
Shireen Hassan: Strong...Unpredictable...Ever-changing... Determined...Relentless... Fierce… and always smiling.
I was lucky enough to see Shireen in what she considers her favorite role — Velma Kelly in Chicago at Central High School — where she impressed with both her singing and dancing. While I'm told there's no formal choreography at this Friday's show, I am sure Ms. Hassan will have the power to sieze and keep the stage with her presence.
Micah Tryba: Big stage presence, powerful vocals, and infectious energy.
For the past four years, Micah has performed as part of No Comment Co-Ed Acapella at Illinois. Although she doesn't cite a musical theatre background, she has been studying under Sarah Wigley Johnson and will be on a reality show subtitled "The real-life Pitch Perfect."
Jaclyn Loewenstein: Small but mighty...sincere...slightly silly...singer of stories.
Jaclyn is a C-U staple backstage and onstage, just this year having directed American Wee-Pie at the Station Theatre and appeared in Fiddler on the Roof at Parkland. I can tell you from personal experience that she's a commanding presence who will no doubt work the room like a pro.
Kari Croop: I commit to a character, and I don't hold back.
Ms. Croop's acting and singing credentials speak for themselves: I may not have seen CUTC's Mary Poppins or Into the Woods, but anyone who can secure leads in both definitely has my attention.
Jenny Carpenter: A chameleon, anywhere from Etta James to Susan Tedeschi.
That's a pretty broad range of diva styles to choose from, and big shoes to fill. Of course, as part of the band Cody and the Gateway Drugs, she did open for Berlin last summer, so I'm guessing her feet are up to the task.
Ranae Wilson: Never taking myself too seriously!
Ranae was just recently in CUTC's I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, a demanding musical with just four actors and scores of roles. In a different interview, she credited her mother as her favorite diva, which is just too perfect for a transition to the show's timing. Naturally, I'll exploit it.
I asked the producers if this Friday's show was more of a Mother's Day treat or a Girls' Night Out, and they diplomatically deflected. It seems like a perfect answer to both, however, to spend a little money and hear some showtunes performed by local talent. While no exact songs were divulged, I've been told that tunes will range from musical theatre to Etta James standards, Spamalot to Ruthless (as performed by Natalie Portman and Britney Spears).
The show will last close to 90 minutes and will be jam-packed: two acts with six songs each, an opening and closing group number, a preview from the upcoming American Idiot and intermission. Each of the five divas will sing one song per act and each junior diva will perform once. The divas themselves got to choose their own numbers, specifically to highlight her strengths and allow her the chance to stop the show. To keep the show moving along will be emcee Chris Harris. Says Gersten, "The Divas may not be in any actual competition – each performance will certainly challenge the others to be at their best."
The Fluid Center will be catering, a full bar operating before the performance and during intermission. Simple bar food such as popcorn, pretzels, hot dogs and nachos will be also be available for purchase to take back to your table. Speaking of tastes, I can't embed this video, but find them on facebook for a taste of what you can expect from the Divas Cabaret.
There will be two shows of the Divas Cabaret on Friday, May 6th: 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. at the Fluid Event Center at 601 N. Country Fair Drive in Champaign. Tickets are $10 each and are available through Twin City Squared's website, or at the door.
About the author...
Editor of Smile Politely's Arts section, rk makes a habit of drinking mind-altering beverages while writing opinions to be published. She has a highly developed sense of grammar and syntax, but little to no content filter. You can follow her on Twitter, @rknaur, but she rarely checks it, so feel free to reiterate tweets when you see her in person.