Name is a stretch, but ‘Divas’ were spellbinding

You have to hand it to the folks at New York Stage & Beyond. They know how to economize.

On Saturday evening, they presented a program called "The Broadway Divas." The three performers had credits that screamed, "Minor Broadway actresses." It made you wonder if the producers understand what a diva is. One singer’s major credit was that she was in the replacement cast for "Rent." And for this, the program charged an $85 top ticket. Is it any wonder the attendance looked anemic?

In addition, one of the advertised performers — conductor Kimberly Grigsby — didn’t make it in, and no announcement was made from the stage (although the credits of the replacement conductor were inserted into the program notes.) This kind of unprofessionalism is no surprise. Recently, composer Jerry Herman was a no-show and the producers didn’t think it necessary to announce that either.

The three singers — Kate Baldwin, Emily Skinner and Shayna Steele — didn’t have much personal charisma. But here’s what’s amazing: Every time they stopped the chit-chat and sang, they were spellbinding.

The singers, backed by a four-piece band, are each expert interpreters of lyric. They communicate the gut of a song. And they were each of a different type.

Baldwin, who’s appeared in "The Full Monty" and "Thoroughly Modern Millie," sang the sweet soprano songs, so that when she turned naughty, it was nice. She has a wide, ever-powerful range.

Skinner, who received a Tony nomination for her role in "Side Show," is a big-boned dynamo who excelled at villainous characters. She offered a glimpse of Disney’s upcoming "The Little Mermaid" Broadway musical by performing a number as Ursula, the evil sea witch. She’ll scare the pants off kids.

And Steele, the "Rent" alumnus, brought fire and tenderness to standards like "I Don’t Know How to Love Him," and "Seasons of Love."

The three did a lot of singing as a group, and their voices were a soothing blend. The arrangements — some by Jason Robert Brown ("Parade") and Andrew Lippa ("The Wild Party") — provided some unusual and effective combinations of things like "New York, New York" and "Lullaby of Broadway."

We’ve heard most of these songs many times before, but the program demonstrated how talent can make just about anything feel like a new experience. And you don’t have to be a diva to pull it off.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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