BY REQUEST: A musical tribute to Jacques Brel, Kurt Weill, Eric Blau, and Charles Aznavour

Featuring Vickie Phillips
Creative Space Theatre
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Doug DeVita

Every singer has at least one song that no matter how many times they sing it, it is a revelation for both performer and audience. Vickie Phillips, a NY Backstage Bistro Award Winner for Outstanding Female Vocalist, has a special affinity for the songs of Jacques Brel, and one of her signature tunes is his haunting ballad, "Marieke." The song is in her blood, and when Phillips puts her considerable talents to its service, it becomes an electrifying moment of intense bliss - a perfect marriage of performer and song.

By Request, her latest cabaret venture, unfortunately did not have enough of those intensely blissful moments to make it a completely successful showcase for either the performer or the material. Phillips is a gifted singer - an ebullient, irrepressible personality with a voice that can do nearly everything from low comedy to high drama. But she is also a performer who needs to connect with her audience, and without that connection, Phillips seems lost. By Request was performed as a theatre piece in a traditional theatre setting, rather than as a cabaret piece in a traditional cabaret room, and that may have been the problem. All of the elements for success were there, but that invisible, indivisible line that separates stage performers from their audience kept Phillips from making that necessary connection, and thus kept her emotionally distanced from her own performance.

She worked very hard, but except for her exquisite rendition of Marieke, the effort showed. Looking fearlessly into a black void, she can do many things, but she is just too honest a performer to fake a connection if she can't see or feel it.

As an opening act, Phillips had as her special guest the comedian Mark-Alan. Alan, also a terrific singer, did a very funny half-hour set, riffing on a variety of topical subjects with expert timing and razor-sharp delivery. A survivor of leukemia, he was especially hilarious when he kidded himself about his bone marrow transplant, complaining that receiving marrow from a straight donor has now made his homosexuality suspect. Brilliant stuff.

The evening was lovingly produced and directed by Bob Ost, with a simple, elegant table and chair serving as a set, and technically ambitious lighting beautifully realized by Anne Scobie. The superb musical direction was by Gerry Dieffenbach, an artist capable of unusually sensitive support, especially useful when working with an artist of Phillips's caliber.

Despite the shortcomings engendered by the venue of its most recent production, By Request should benefit when Phillips returns to her natural milieu, as she will in April when the show is scheduled for an encore engagement in the more intimate cabaret environs of Don't Tell Mama. With her audience within her reach, this generous performer should once again rock the house with her particular brand of vocal magic.
Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Musical Direction: 2
Performance: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2000 Doug DeVita