Club Review: Celia Berk’s “On My Way to You—Improbable Stories That Inspired an Unlikely Path”

March 3, 2022 | By | Add a Comment

Celia Berk drew a large and enthusiastic crowd to the Laurie Beechman Theatre for “On My Way to You: Improbable Stories That Inspired an Unlikely Path.Berk brought a room-filling sincerity and warmth that was wisely punctuated with humor.

“Anything I Can Do” (Irving Berlin from Annie Get Your Gun) featured lyrics changed to “Anything I can do/I can do better” so that Berk was endearingly fighting with herself, finding her comedic stride as her inner competitive eleven-year-old who wanted to replace Ethel Merman née Zimmermann. Pianist, Music Director, and Co-Arranger Ted Firth, who was stellar throughout, was in on the joke and snuck in Mancini’s “Pink Panther” theme—as if she were creeping up on…herself. “Anyone Can Whistle” (Stephen Sondheim) was particularly lovely, with Berk bringing such simplicity to the word “easy.”

Celia Berk (Photo: Helane Blumfield)

Her stories were inspired by the lives of iconic singers: their later-in-life successes, their stage fright, their reemergence after loss and discouragement—and questions about what a performer needs to believe about themselves to become great. Berk’s patter was particularly well-rehearsed with clear themes developing through the evening, and transitions in and out of songs and speech were seamless. Director and Co-Arranger Mark Nadler deserves credit for collaborating to create such an effective arc for the show. And whomever came up with matching the numbers in the lyrics of  “I’m the First Girl (In the Second Row in the Third Scene in the Fourth Number” (Hugh Martin from Look Ma, I’m Dancin’) to the numbered ballet arm positions—thank you. Berk’s New York chorus girl accent brought it home, and the tradition of musical theatre poking fun at all things classical lived another day.

“Di rigori armato” (Richard Strauss, Hugo von Hofmannsthal from Der Rosenkavalier) worked quite well: it’s not easy to blend opera repertory into a cabaret performance, but Berk leaned into the story—with a brief introduction that prepared the audience to follow along with the Italian—and impressively showed her range by singing it in the original tenor key.

A lower mezzo voice like Berk’s opens up the storytelling of deep emotional places that resonate in the heart. The octave below middle C sounded like her home ground—she had a full upper range as well, which she tended to use with a slightly classical feel with vibrato and darker vowel tone. The tricky part for all singers is the middle voice and managing the transitions. That night, Berk had some very immediate contrasts between a chest-driven lower range and a head-driven middle and upper range, which was fine for her “I Could Have Danced All Night” (Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner & Lowe from My Fair Lady) and not quite the right stylistic choice for Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed.”

The passage between vocal registers was completely smoothed over in “With Every Breath I Take” (Cy Coleman, David Zippel from City of Angels)—which had, very appropriately for the song, more breathiness in her tone; that could be a sound worth exploring elsewhere as well. “The Best is Yet to Come” (Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh) had one of the best transitions of the show: straight into it with swinging confidence.

***

Being presented at the Laurie Beechman Theatre on February 18, April 10, 21, and 27, 2022. 

Category: News / Reviews / Commentary, Reviews

About the Author ()

From Canada, Penelope Thomas came to NY to study dance with Merce Cunningham; then through a series of fortunate and unfortunate events, she wound up back in singing and acting. Credits include lead vocals with FauveMuseum on two albums and live at Symphony Space, singing back-up for Bistro Awards director Shellen Lubin at the Metropolitan Room, reading poet Ann Carson’s work at the Whitney, and touring North America and Europe with Mikel Rouse’s The End of Cinematics. In Toronto, she studied piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music and cello with the Claude Watson School for the Arts, and in New York she studied music theory with Mark Wade. She's taught in the New School’s Sweat musical theatre intensive and taught dance in public schools and conservatories.

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