“Say YES!” Lillias White sings with evangelical incitement. “Life keeps happening every day/Say YES!” If this artist doesn’t raise your spirits, I’d feel for a pulse. (John Kander/ Fred Ebb-70 Girls, 70) “It’s not where you start/It’s where you finish…” she reminds us shimmying across the stage, leaning out. White connects. Shoulders roll, arms rise, palms descend “…easy does it…” (Cy Coleman/Dorothy Fields- Seesaw)
“We decided to put this together because the world, not just the United States, the whole world is a shit show… I grew up in Brooklyn. Some of the things that made me happy were handball after swimming and Saturday morning cartoons…” White sings the Mighty Mouse television show theme as if it was a bugle call. Where, in fact, are our heroes she seems to ask? (Philip Scheib/ Marshall Barer)
A head-bobbing rendition of Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen’s “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” with light cymbal and easy strum playfully speeds up and slows down, half encouragement, half dare. Jazz roots are clear. Eyes twinkle.
Bobby Sharp’s “I’m Getting Along Right” is a hot mama song of defiance. “I cried like a baby when you went away last Friday night…But I made some connections/I sure am gettin’ along alright…” The burlesque beat charms her like a snake. White slaps her rear, gyrates, struts, and pivots. She’s deeply engaged and gloriously empowered. Our audience cheers.
A “Brooklyn to Broadway” medley takes us through some of the high spots of her career. Having been cast in some ten to eleven shows to date, White calls herself “a theater worker,” i.e. not a star. We begin with Barnum’s wry, bouncy “Thank God, I’m Old.” (Michael Stewart/ Cy Coleman) The actress becomes her character. I saw that appearance, nothing’s lost.
Two selections from Dreamgirls follow. (Henry Krieger/Tom Eyen) “Look at me/ I am changing…” starts deep, erupting like a geyser with clarity and force. The show’s title song sounds nostalgic. We can feel affection for the role. She rounds out the sampling with a signature “Oldest Profession” (Ira Gasman/Cy Coleman) from The Life which earned her a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. “I’m gonna take this opportunity to let Sonja out, but I take no responsibility,” she quips hobbling to a chair.
Tough sarcasm, exhaustion, bemusement and just a dash of bitterness emerge. There’s not a false moment. We’re treated to dialogue calculating ten years of johns= 15,000, “not counting the women.” Really, this show deserves a revival. White could still play the part. “I’m getting too old…” her head drops asleep, then startles awake, “for the oldest profession.” The turn never gets dusty in her hands.
Musical backbone and high wattage energy may come naturally, but this artist plumbs subtler emotion with the best of’m. A so-called Lilliasized” version of Michel Legrand/ Alan & Marilyn Bergman’s “The Way He Makes Me Feel” arrives with languid, balladic sizzle. Lyrics course through her visibly. One feels like a voyeur.
“Make Someone Happy” (Betty Comden/Adolph Green/Jule Styne) is treated as a carnivale samba. The lady can dance! Round-edged scat adds seasoning. We close with an unexpected arrangement of “When You Wish Upon a Star.” Animated and bright, it leaves us just where the performer intends – with a collective grin as wide as the room.
Opening Photo Courtesy of Feinstein’s 54/Below
Performance Photos: Kristoffer Lowe
Lillias White: Make Someone Happy
Timothy Graphenreed- MD/Piano
Alex Eckhardt-Bass; Eric Brown: Drums
July 30, 2019
254 West 54th Street
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