Broadway Perspectives: Women of Broadway

Broadway Perspectives

Women of Broadway

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, Scottsdale, AZ, March 12, 2022

Reviewed by Lynn Timmons Edwards

This was the third original revue created by New York casting director Stephen DeAngelis exclusively for the Scottsdale Center. It featured the talents of four Broadway veterans—Lavon Fisher-Wilson, Sara Jean Ford, Jackie Burns, and Kissy Simmons. Eugene Gwozdz was back at the piano to provide first-rate accompaniment. While bringing Broadway singers to Scottsdale for a unique one-night cabaret gives us a treat, it is also fraught with challenges. The women had never performed together before, and there was no theme or connective patter for the evening. Until Burns and Ford closed with “For Good” from Wicked, the program consisted of a series of solos with each performer entering and exiting the stage, which made it hard to sustain the energy level. There was an encore of “I’m a Woman” (used in Smokey Joe’s Café) sung by all four voices. DeAngelis, who is a five-star producer and experienced director, cast himself as the emcee and went overboard with question-and-answer time with the women. In Act Two he took questions from the audience, but there was no house mic, and he did not repeat the question for those in the audience who were too far from the speaker to hear it. The ladies would have been better off being on stage together to disclose their stories directly to the audience relating to the songs that they chose to perform.

Simmons holds the title for longest running Nala in The Lion King. She flew to New York City on September 10, 2001, to audition for Disney’s Aida. She came from a one-traffic-light town in Florida, and the 9/11 attack was her scary and an eye-opening introduction to the Big Apple. Her “Shadowland” from The Lion King was guttural and intense, and she is a beauty on stage. Later, she sang “Easy as Life” from Aida; this choice was less interesting, and her voice seemed bigger than the material. She shined on “God Bless the Child,” and her sultry tones morphed into her riveting belt. The arrangement had a piano interlude that showcased Gwozdz. Her closing solo was “Home” from The Wiz. She shared that her 13-year-old daughter is currently playing Dorothy in The Wiz and thinks “she’s got it all going on.” But in classic diva mom style, Simmons told her, “Girl, watch and learn!”

Ford is a classic ingénue and she has logged thousands of hours playing Christine in The Phantom of the Opera. She opened this show with “Think of Me,” showing that her classically trained lyric soprano can float to the highest notes with ease. She gave the audience classic Broadway with “A Cockeyed Optimist” from South Pacific as well as “The Sound of Music.” She had played Nellie Forbush as a 19-year-old community college student and stands ready to play Maria unless she gets the call to play Eliza Doolittle first. Ford has come a long way since growing up with a single mom in a mobile-home park where she put on her own one-person shows and dreamed of the life she has now. Although we did not get to hear it, I believed her when she said she does a kick-ass “Glitter and Be Gay” from Candide.

Burns is also a record holder, having played Elphaba in over 1,400 performances of Wicked. Apparently, she could not get a French manicure for her wedding because her fingernails were too yellow from being painted green for years. She saw Wicked in previews as a new professional working for Disney Tokyo and knew right then that Elphaba was a part she wanted to play. We learned that she was inspired by Shirley Temple movies and, after playing Rizzo in a school production of Grease, she became hooked on musical theater. She made the audience wait to hear “Defying Gravity” to close Act One. She opened with “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from Evita. Burns is a tall belter with long curly hair, and showed she has an abundance of confidence. She chose “People” from Funny Girl, which had subtle, quiet moments and proved that she has the ability to take her chest voice up into her middle range. The song is perfect for her, and she finally got to sing it after a concert with Gwozdz in February 2021 had been cancelled due to the power grid freeze in Texas. 

Burns and Ford closed the evening with the only duet—predictably “For Good.” They laughed about becoming friends, having just met on the plane to Phoenix. Ford was the Glinda standby in the Chicago company of Wicked, so she was anxious to get the chance to sing with Burns.

By far the comedic standout with the biggest voice was Fisher-Wilson. Having missed a stair step recently at a family member’s house, she went on with cane in hand. She used it brilliantly as a prop, so was the whole story a ruse? “When You’re Good to Mama” from her days playing Mama Morton in Chicago had me hooked. At times her voice was too big and brassy for the song. This was also true on “Fools Fall in Love” (used in Smokey Joe’s Café) and on the closing bars of “I Am Changing” from Dreamgirls. She was hysterically funny talking about home schooling challenges, and she mentioned a call she received from her son’s teacher who said that there was an emoji posing as him on his screen while he took a nap. Her fourth song (DeAngelis made sure songs were equally divided, four apiece) was “I Know Where I Have Been” from Hairspray. It had the most personal context of all the numbers in the cabaret. Fisher-Wilson first came to New York to audition for the role of Motormouth Maybelle in that show. She did not get cast. The directors did not know what to do with her; she did not look like her voice. One hundred pounds and three children later she grew into her voice ,and she said that she gets cast all the time now. She spoke of working with young singers and giving back, and she paid tribute to her former teacher David Brown who opened the world of musical theater to her. Like Burns, she is looking for an original role to take to Broadway. For Fisher-Wilson, that’s the role of a “full-bodied strong woman in her forties.”

Compliments go to DeAngelis for introducing these talented women to us and allowing them to share their experiences and their dreams, as well as their observations about social media’s effect on casting. Apparently, landing a role is now more about “followers and likes” and less about talent these days. Hopefully these Women of Broadway will have a few more “likes” at their next auditions.

The final cabaret in the Scottsdale Center Broadway Series will feature Lea Salonga, who sold out the theater the last time she appeared. She takes the stage on May 5.

Lynn Timmons Edwards

Lynn writes and performs themed cabaret shows based on the songs of the Great American Songbook throughout Arizona. She has had three short plays produced in the Theatre Artists Studio Festival of Summer Shorts and is working on a full length play, "Fairy," based on the life of Mary Russell Ferrell Colton, a founder of the Museum of Northern Arizona. In addition to writing and singing, Lynn plays bridge and tennis and enjoys traveling with her husband and artistic companion, Bob. Born in Ohio, Lynn is a graduate of Denison University (BA), Arizona State University (MPA) and has lived in Arizona since 1977.