Ariana Debose

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Ariana Debose

Birdland, NYC, February 11, 2019

Reviewed by Chris Struck for Cabaret Scenes

Ariana Dubose

If Ariana Debose’s terrific voice doesn’t capture your attention from the start, her spontaneous posing, vocal fluctuations, and high kicks most definitely will. While other high-energy performers might be noteworthy for their uncappable fountains of emotion, Debose ups the ante and may be best described as a “ball of fire.” When on stage, she certainly does turn reality into a made-for-music moment from word one.

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As she told us between the songs, she had put together a “through-line” of love discovered, won, lost, and re-won—or maybe just lost. It’s a story that closely parallels her own life and experience. Undeniably great, Debose will light up any room in which she performs.

An example of her unique spin on each song, she took “Holding Out for a Hero” (Jim Steinman/Dean Pitchford) and sang it as a full-on ballad. Starting with “Where have all the good men gone, and where are all the gods?” at such a slow tempo she claimed our attention.

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Later, when she turned on the hyper-speed, she had us gripped by her every move. As she was prone to striking poses at ends of phrases and songs, there were plenty of moves to watch.

That being said, most of her show appeared to be an ode to her newest lady flame. While a heartbreak inspired the downward arc that came toward the end of the show, she has found new love that has become her muse. Though chronologically backwards, her songs earlier in the act exemplified this, including the West Side Story classic, “Maria” (Stephen Sondheim/Leonard Bernstein), which captured the moment of becoming love-struck. It also allowed her to subtly drop that she’s joining the cast of Steven Spielberg’s movie version of the classic show. A later and more epic ode to new love was “You Get My Love” (Alecia Moore/Pink/Tobias Jesso, Jr.), featuring only Debose and cellist Mairi Doman Phaneuf and her musical partner-in-crime, Ben Rauhula (pianist/music director). Her voice traded the melody with Phaneuf’s cello for a beautiful duet. Between songs, she traded jokes with Rauhula.

Debose also featured her other co-performers, never failing to shout out to her back up vocalists, Marissa Rosen and Melody Madarasz. She was supported by Justin Goldner on the guitar, Alan Steven Hewitt on the double bass, and Rosa Avila on drums. However, Storm Lever’s guest appearance deserves the highest praise. Her medley performances alongside Debose were brilliant, including a moment stolen from the Judy Garland/Barbra Streisand medley of “Get Happy” and “Happy Days Are Here Again” (Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler; Milton Ager/Jack Yellen) that transitioned into Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.”

Chris Struck

Chris Struck's debut novel, Kennig and Gold, is due to be officially published in June 2019. He's written reviews for Cabaret Scenes since August of 2017. For more information about the writer, see