Kenita Miller: 54 Below

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Kenita Miller

54 Below, NYC, March 7, 2015

Reviewed by Joel Benjamin for Cabaret Scenes

Kenita-MIller-54Below-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212Kenita Miller is a dazzler, a petite powerhouse with a huge voice and a pleasing eagerness. Her show at 54 Below moved from genre to genre, from blues to Broadway, showing off her many vocal colors and her complete dedication to each  song.

Her witty take on “He’s the Wizard” (from The Wiz) seemed to get her over her professed nervousness. She was joined by Margo Seibert in Daniel Green’s “Waiting and Waiting,” about a woman overcoming self-doubt and deciding to change her life. Thinking about motherhood led to Tina deVaron’s “Nothing but the Love,” a sweet musing on the subtle pleasures of “mommy-ness.” The bluesy “Reason to Fall” (Zoe Czarnecki) was somber, a strange apocalyptic vision, with an odd, big finish.

She dedicated a portion of her program to her mentors Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, singing their philosophical view of life, “White Milk & Red Blood” with Flaherty accompanying her.

With Lindsay Mendez she sang the jazz classic “Moody’s Mood for Love” (James Moody via Jimmy McHugh) as a shout-out to her vocal heroine, Aretha Franklin.  With another hero—her talented husband Justin Hicks—she sang his “The Rest Stop” which had a lovely improvised feel.

She ended with the gentle “Wild Flower” by Jason Webb, her musical director, which advocated taking life easy, bringing the song to a powerful, but gentle climax.

Webb’s band included Konrad Adderley on bass and bandoneon and drummer Joe Nero. Her two backup singers were Dale Sampson and Helen White.

In the end, no clear image of this artist emerged, except that she can sing and act up a storm, which is probably enough. She chattered far too much, explaining every song and its background. In the future, hopefully, she will let the songs do the talking.

Joel Benjamin

A native New Yorker, Joel was always fascinated by musical theater. Luckily, he was able to be a part of seven Broadway musicals before the age of 14, quitting to pursue a pre-med degree, which led no where except back to performing in the guise of directing a touring ballet troupe. Always interested in writing, he wrote a short play in high school that was actually performed, leading to a hiatus of nearly 40 years before he returned to writing as a reviewer. Writing for Cabaret Scenes has kept him in touch with world filled with brilliance.