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Theater 11’s Soprano

This cabaret of pop, Broadway and opera tunes is a fun potpourri

Sarah Kent, Wendy Baird and Ali Vellon —three powerful singers of uncommon stylistic range — deliver music to please many tastes.

Theater 11 is the 2003 creation of 11 artists from the Anne Arundel County theater and music scene, devised to bring new or rare works to local audiences. They began with a seldom seen Wendy Wasserstein play, followed by two original works by local authors. Their stage went dark after two seasons while its members focused on life’s larger needs. But their vision never died. They reclaimed the stage in December with In Celebration, a holiday collage of prose, poetry and song, which they hope to make an annual tradition. Now comes the musical revue Soprano, written and directed by troupe founder Mike Gilles, who calls it a “fun, insightful and intriguing theater experience.” 
    This cabaret of pop, Broadway and opera tunes is a fun potpourri seasoned with insightful quotes. Wendy Baird, Sarah Kent and Ali Vellon — three powerful singers of uncommon stylistic range — deliver music to please many tastes.
    If you love Liz Callaway’s tender Broadway ballads, you’ll be transported by the trio’s opening You There In the Back Row. If you can’t help chair bopping to Katy Perry’s voice belting out over the car radio, you’ll love Baird’s spot-on Firework. Likewise, Kent sells Eva Cassidy’s poignant I Know You By Heart so well you’d swear you were listening to the recording.
    Feeling classical? How about Kent and Baird’s enchanting Flower Duet from Delibes’ opera Lakmé?  If the Dixie Chicks are more your style, Vellon excels in Wide Open Spaces, supported by the best back-up harmonies of the evening.  Other show stoppers include Kent’s toe-tapping renditions of the Martha and the Vandellas’ hit Heat Wave and Evanescence’s yearning My Immortal. For a send-off, you can’t beat the trio’s inspirational Finale B from Rent.
    Spanning 130 years of soprano repertoire, this program hits nearly two dozen highlights from The Wizard of Oz to Wicked, all accompanied by the masterful Ron Giddings on piano. But rather like a mix tape that a sentimental baby boomer might share with children or grandchildren, Soprano revels in introspective melodies at the expense of variety. Ballads in four/four time are lovely, but when they comprise three quarters of the program, they all start to sound the same. When this cast of seasoned adults tries to step out of the box with Katy Perry’s teen anthem Last Friday Night, it feels embarrassingly wrong.
    Given that three voices can only provide so much diversity, this production needs more theatrical pizzazz in the form of staging, costume changes, special lighting effects — perhaps some choreography and theatrical fireworks. This “theater experience” is more concert than theater. It has much to offer music lovers. I just wish it offered more than bare music.

Soprano: A Musical Revue compiled and directed by Michael Gilles. Musical director: Sally Gilles. Accompanist: Ron Giddings. Vocal Arrangements: Wendy Baird. Technical consultant: Stephanie Anderson.
Playing thru May 18, FSa 8pm at Anne Arundel Community College, 112 Humanities Building, Arnold. $20 w/discounts: 410-703-0396; www.theater11.com.