Lori Brown Mirabal’s one-woman show, Charmed Life: From Soul Singing to Opera Star, was the last performance at Urban Stages before all theatres went dark in March 2020. Sixteen months later, the show’s return to Urban Stages also means a return of in-person audiences. For this writer, the excitement of basking in the vibe of live performance again and sharing that with fellow audience members felt charmed indeed. And from what I could observe, the enchantment was unanimous, thanks to the storytelling magic of Tennessee-born singer and actor Lori Brown Mirabal.
Mirabal’s artistic journey from Nashville to international opera stages is a moving and inspiring tale full of marvelous turns of fate and revelations, ingeniously underlined by Max Ehrmann’s verse from his 1920s poem Desiderata, which Mirabal’s mother used to quote: “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.” Abundant in musical numbers from jazz to operatic favorites like Musetta’s Waltz and a Carmen medley, and spiced up with comedic elements, these 70 minutes in Mirabal’s company will leave you uplifted and encouraged. They will make you feel that, as long as you stay true to what you love, life is rich with potential, and reinvention—in both an artistic and a personal sense—is always possible.
Throughout her narrative, Mirabal pays tribute to the legends that helped her along the way, like Oprah, Cab Calloway, and Luciano Pavarotti, and honors Black opera stars who inspired her, such as Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman, Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, and Kathleen Battle. From a theatrical and operatic perspective, the dramatically strongest segment of the show is Mirabal’s enacting of Georges Bizet’s Carmen in a blend of storytelling, singing excerpts from the opera, dancing (with castanets, no less), reading her tragic fortune in the card aria, and using the stage space to great effect. Pianist John DiPinto is a supportive partner all throughout, and his mastery of diverse musical styles serves the effervescent, dramatic, comedic, and intimate musical facets of Mirabal’s delivery naturally and effortlessly.
Enthusiastic applause goes to lighting designer Madeleine Burrow, especially for the Carmen segment, and to set designer Jaime Terrazzino for creating the elegance of an opera diva’s music salon. Vincent Scott’s skillful blocking and direction enable a seamless transition from one chapter of the tale to another, making us feel like we are actually sitting in the salon with Mirabal like longtime friends. À propos sitting in the salon, if I had one recommendation, it would be for a stronger vocal projection and sharper diction when Mirabal is singing from the upstage loveseat, mainly in the Duke Ellington song “I Got It Bad.” The interpretative intentions were clear, but too much inward focus from that location onstage stifled the sound and lyrics, and put a damper on the dramatic effect. And one lingering wish is to have heard much more than the first phrase “Deh! proteggimi o Dio” (Oh, protect me, o God) of the aria from Bellini’s Norma, which Mirabal had sung during a masterclass with Luciano Pavarotti. When Mirabal sings this phrase in her show, her sound becomes beautifully rounded and full of new colors, and it makes me long to hear her sing the entire aria.
Lori Brown Mirabal’s Charmed Life: From Soul Singing to Opera Star is an impressive, touching, and entertaining one-woman’s singing, acting, and writing tour de force. Don’t miss it!
Currently playing at Urban Stages until August 1st: tickets are available here.
Photos by Ben Hider