In the space of two months, Broadway stars have been headlining all over town in New York's most elegant nightclubs. Christine Andreas (The Scarlet Pimpernel) is at The Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room; Linda Eder (Jekyll & Hyde) is at Feinstein's at the Regency; Robert Cuccioli (Jekyll & Hyde) is coming in to Arci's Place at the beginning of April. The biggest Broadway award-winner of them all, however, is starring right now at Arci's. Lillias White, who copped the Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and People's Choice Award for her performance in The Life, is packing in the patrons for her new act, From Brooklyn to Broadway. White makes some wrong turns in this show; the ride gets bumpy. But, thanks to her considerable acting skills and her rich, full-bodied voice, you won't want her to put on the brakes.
White makes a halfhearted attempt to tie her show to an autobiographical structure that takes her from her youth to her Broadway breakthrough. Sometimes she makes these connections work, as when she captures her childlike innocence in a cheeky rendition of "Ooh, What You Said!" by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. At another fine moment, she brings the vitality of her multicultural family to effervescent life with the lively calypso "Mama, Look, a Booboo by Lord Melody" (Fitzroy Alexander). Interspersed with numbers like these are other songs that surely connect--but to some other show, not this one. She also offers some weak material, such as "Born For You" from the animated movie Hercules. But when White digresses with songs like Mark Taylor's "Believe," you forgive all sins because she rocks the room with a defiant sense of fun.
The show's focus returns when she gets to Broadway; but here, again, her choices range from boneheaded to brilliant. This singer/actress, who appeared on Broadway in Barnum, Dreamgirls, Once on This Island, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying as well asThe Life, sings sections of songs from all of these. Too often, though, White only throws us some crumbs. Why in the world would she choose to sing just one verse of "Brotherhood of Man" from How to Succeed? That number stopped the show on Broadway, and it could stop the show at Arci's Place. The proof is that the two Broadway songs she sings from start to finish, "Thank God I'm Old" from Barnum and "The Oldest Profession" from The Life, are deliciously served by White and happily devoured by the audience.
Speaking of the audience: We come to a show to be entertained, not to be part of the act. On several occasions White tries to get her patrons to sing along and forces individuals at ringside to interact with her. It doesn't work. However, these lapses--like her truncated Broadway show tunes and the ragged structure of her act--eventually pale in the face of her bright, brassy performance. You feel White's soulful yearning when she sings "The Way He Makes Me Feel" from Yentl, by Michel Legrand and Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Likewise, you discover the dreamy side of this seemingly tough Broadway baby when she touchingly sings "Fairy Tales" by Gordon Chambers.
At any time during the course of her show, Lillias White can--and will--convince you of her greatness. Her talent is undeniable, as is her star power. Flawed and fabulous at the same time, From Brooklyn to Broadway is a trip--and still very much worth your trip to see Ms. White.