Brittney Lee Hamilton: No, I’ve Never Played Annie (An Eternal Child’s Road to Adulthood)

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Brittney Lee Hamilton

No, I’ve Never Played Annie
(An Eternal Child’s Road to Adulthood)

Laurie Beechman Theatre, NYC, November 6, 2015

Reviewed by Rob Lester for Cabaret Scenes

Brittney-Lee-Hamilton-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212On the petite side, youthful-looking, glib Brittney Lee Hamilton has oft been cast waaaay younger, doing cartoon voices, being June in Gypsy, plus many a jaunt down the yellow brick road as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. After a while, playing young got old. She’s a plucky redhead, but No, I’ve Never Played Annie she calls her act. However, she uses selections from Annie’s score which make points, but don’t always earn them for her. “I Was Born to Entertain” proclaims petite, youthful-looking, belting Brittney Lee Hamilton, with the aggressively splashy number über-confidently stated by a child performer in the musical Ruthless, now being revived in NYC. Hammy Hamilton claims that in her adult life she’s almost always cast in theater as a kid or another extreme (at first a relief, but…) a prostitute (!
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), although I’d seen and enjoyed/reviewed her in the musicals Peg o’ My Heart and Hurricane, where she was neither. Knowing how many zillions of other talented auditionees would be glad to get ANY role made her complaining reek of a sense of entitlement. Is Brittney brittle? Brash? Abrasive? Defensive? Evasive? She alludes to a make-out session in a parked car by a 7-11 store, where she “lost” something other than her bag of potato chips. Letting the chips fall where they may, the incident provides a song cue for “I Know Things Now” by Stephen Sondheim (“And he made me feel excited/Well, excited and scared” – written to be sung by a once more innocent Red Riding Hood, but….).

Her belting is solid, but was it she, the mic, the mic technique, or the sound technician that made her voice sound so keeningly abrasive too often in the large space? That space was The Laurie Beechman and when she talked about relocating to NYC and sang “NYC” from Annie and called out the name “Laurie Beechman!” with an “of course/what else?” kind of comment, I’m not sure most people were informed enough to get the reference. (The singer-actress for whom the venue is named played the new arrival who excitedly sings about how she “just got here this morning!” in the original production where she made her Broadway debut 22 years before her 1998 death.)

While the idea of using material associated with young characters in musicals has potential, more shadings and perspective are needed to make it work as a unique person’s cabaret, rather than a generic concert by a strong-voiced adult. Something special needs to come through IN the way the material is sung, not just how it’s referenced and set up. Too much just feels like a flashback, maybe seeing how she’d sing when “acting younger.” And her on-the-way-to-Manhattan/on-the-way-to-a-career road trip mix tape of energizing numbers could use something more personalized, too.
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We want more than just knock-‘em-dead renditions of the songs or it’s like watching someone audition for roles.

Cast in a new show by an established Broadway writer meant a shot at fame….alas, shot down when the reviews crush its future. But it’s HER photo in The New York Times!!! And she’s not personally trashed. She recreates the moment—eagerly skimming the page. It’s funny, sad, a bit mean. But entertaining. Maybe she WAS born to entertain!

When Brittney does get more personal and vulnerable, she shows a warmer side that hints at the kind of successful cabaret performer she can become for a mature audience that wants something deeper. So, it was a relief once we got past the strutting and sass, and she talked and sang about family, loss, and romance. (However, the sweet story of her boyfriend proposing marriage with a ring at the ready—at Disneyland!—was de-romanticized by her griping about being so irritable from hunger that afternoon; who cares?). Her husband is named James, but no, he’s not the James whose last name is Cunningham who plays piano for her so competently in the act.

At last, when she sang the perhaps inevitable—the Annie anthem “Tomorrow” and “Over the Rainbow” (maybe the most-performed song in cabaret shows?)—they were informed by an adult sensibility on top of the childhood innocence and yearning for better times. And, boy oh boy!, THAT worked like magic. Perhaps too little, too late, but a reason to believe in a better “tomorrow” for this obviously talented singer. Let’s hope that talent and careful direction win out and that soon there could be more than one Hamilton on Broadway.

Rob Lester

2015 is native New Yorker Rob Lester's eighth year as contributing writer, beginning by reviewing a salute to Frank Sinatra, whose recordings have played on his personal soundtrack since the womb. (His Cabaret Scenes Foundation member mom started him with her favorite; like his dad, he became an uber-avid record collector/ fan of the Great American Songbook's great singers and writers.) Soon, he was attending shows, seeking out up-and-comers and already-came-ups, still reading and listening voraciously. He also writes for and, has been cabaret-centric as awards judge, panel member/co-host, and produces benefit/tribute shows, including one for us.