Theater News

Saundra Santiago Celebrates Her Roots at Arci’s Place

Barbara & Scott Siegel have followed SAUNDRA SANTIAGO to Arci’s Place…

Saundra Santiago has been on Broadway, spent five years on TV in Miami Vice, and is presently a regular on The Guiding Light. Now she’s got a cabaret act at Arci’s Place. But we knew her when! In the early 1980s, Sauntiago was a singing waitress at a little dessert place on New York’s Upper East Side. We took note of her in those days for several reasons, including her striking beauty, her obvious singing talent, and (most memorably) the announcement she made one evening after singing a ballad as soft as whipped cream: She said we’d be seeing her the following season on Broadway in Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge, starring Tony LoBianco.

Talk about success stories. We’ve followed Santiago’s career ever since, but we never actually heard her sing again until just the other night at Arci’s Place. Her show, largely a celebration of her Latin roots, moves and sways with a multitude of boleros, balanced with the occasional standard and show tune.

The act is new, and Santiago is not yet entirely comfortable with it. Part of the problem is that her patter sounds more scripted than natural, but that’s easy to fix. In any event, it’s readily apparent that she will soon thrive on a cabaret stage; during the course of the performance we saw, she noticeably loosened up and broke through a sense of reserve to begin connecting with her audience. Her stiffness at the top of the show might well be caused by some misguided musical choices: Early on, she sings Stephen Sondheim’s “I Know Things Now” from Into the Woods, but the subtlety of the lyrics eludes her. As a result, the show stalls.

Soon thereafter, Sauntiago finds her rhythm (literally) in a sensual, up-tempo version of “Perfidia” by Alberto Dominguez, sung in both English and Spanish. She charms with a playful shoe fetish revelation that culminates in a stiletto-sharp rendition of “High Heeled Blues” by Patricia Cathcart Andress. She teases us with Cole Porter’s “The Laziest Gal in Town” and seduces us with Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “How Insensitive.” There are, by the way, plenty of jazz singers who include Jobim in their acts, but Santiago is one of relatively few cabaret performers who can deliver a wide range of Latin sounds with so much authority. She creates a heady, often sensuous blend of music from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and all across South America. She also comes to that place where musical borders are crossed as she offers a tribute to Carmen Miranda, Ervin Drake’s catchy “Tico Tico,” and the Webber/Rice anthem “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” from Evita.

Tall, statuesque, and ever so womanly, Santiago is as much a pleasure to watch as she is to hear. Her dark, flashing eyes, tinged with vulnerability, draw you in as she sings with a sultry huskiness. Neither her vocal quality nor her singing style is so distinctive that you’d immediately recognize her sound on a recording, but she has a pleasing voice, and she can sell a lyric in any language. (Her alluring version of Armando Manzanero’s romantic “Te Extrano” proves the point.)

Arci’s Place seems just the right venue for Santiago; this elegant cabaret restaurant has a romantic atmosphere that fits the mood of her show. She can be found at Arci’s every Sunday and Monday night in April.