Dorian Woodruff

December 14, 2018 | By | Add a Comment

Dorian Woodruff is an elegant and refined man. And, with a voice that is just as elegant and refined, he captivated the audience at Pangea with his show Welcome Home: Everybody Has a Story.

The MAC Award nominee crafted a lovely program of stories and songs that almost always intertwined seamlessly, sung with a formidable legato and a lyrical ease. Against a backdrop of childhood stories, Woodruff explained, “When I was a kid, I always wanted to see the inside of other folks’ apartments. What kind of furniture they had. What kind of art, wallpaper. And through my somewhat pushy prying, and much to the chagrin of my grandmother, I eventually made my way in to see most of them. I learned their stories. I discovered who had country homes, who could cook, and who couldn’t; who was friendly…and who wasn’t. And as I grew older, a marvelous thing happened: I became lifelong friends with many of these people.”

This set-up paved the way for many wonderful songs, including a marvelous pairing of “There’s a Small Hotel” (Rodgers & Hart) and “Moonglow” (Will Hudson, Irving Mills, Eddie DeLange) in a smashing arrangement by music director and pianist Rick Jensen. These two songs were so deftly interwoven it was hard to believe they were not originally conceived with this pairing in mind. Add to that a beautiful, understated vocal delivery and a full and sonorous piano accompaniment, and Woodruff was off to a fine start.

The show is essentially about relationships—and all that comes with them. From Woodruff’s childhood memory of his Scottish uncle who lived in a “castle” with a “kilt-wearing ginger” (who he later realized was his uncle’s gay life-partner) to the mistress of his great grandfather, for whom he was able to find compassion, this show welcomed us into some personal and private moments without our ever feeling like an intruder—and the stories were punctuated by some very artful singing.

The voice never called attention to itself; rather, it served the lyric with impeccable taste and phrasing. Woodruff’s entire use of voice harkened back to an early 18th century ease, where high notes remained soft and part of the lyric phrase, and words were caressed as they parted his lips. His mastery of this refined vocal technique puts one in mind of the bygone era of the golden age singer.

And there was more than one surprise. A powerful ending to Leslie Bricusse’ s “You and I” was very effective, as was a captivating arrangement of “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year” (Frank Loesser) coupled with “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” (Tommy Wolf, Fran Landesman). The show touched many bases: comedy (Winston Clark and Peter Winkler’s “Hot Wheels and Taffeta”); pathos (“My Man,” by Maurice Yvain, Jacques-Charles, and Albert Willemetz, English lyric by Channing Pollock); sensuality (Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Come On Come On); and most of all, a heart that beat with every breath, and a voice connected to that heart in the most authentic of ways.

Two points of critique here, in the interest of making a good thing even better. Woodruff seemed a little uneasy for a large part of the performance. His standing mostly stock-still in front of the microphone became noticeable by about song 5; when he finally sat on a stool, towards the end of the set, around song 11, his new-found relaxation seemed a welcome relief. Second, the only story/song coupling that I found odd was his 18th century anecdote about his great grandfather’s mistress, paired with Billy Goldenberg and Alan & Marilyn Bergman’s “Fifty Percent”; the song, although well performed, seemed particularly anachronistic to the story.

Woodruff encored with “Sleep Warm” (Lew Spence, Marilyn Keith, Alan Bergman) while walking through the audience personally delivering his heartfelt goodbyes, seeming to revere each member of the audience as he did the marvelous people that inhabited his childhood. A fitting ending to an intimate evening of story and song.

Welcome Home: Everybody Has a Story
Pangea – October 6, 12, December 1, 8

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

David Sabella enjoys a successful and varied career. As a performer, he's appeared on- and off Broadway—most notably in the 1996 revival of "Chicago"—and in cabaret; in 2018 he received the Outstanding Performer in a Lead Role award for his work in "The Phillie Trilogy" at the Fresh Fruit Festival. In classical music, he was a winner of the Luciano Pavarotti International Voice Competition and the New York Oratorio Society Competition, and he has performed leading roles throughout the US and abroad. As an educator, he served as President of the New York Singing Teachers Association (2008-2014) and has been published in the Association's journal, and he has served on the faculty of several prestigious universities. He's the author of the forthcoming "So You Want to Sing Cabaret" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).

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