Barrington Stage Company
A Holiday Getaway
With Alan H. Green, Alysha Umphress, and Joel Waggoner
For a Scat - ered Holiday. . .take early and ....
Too often, these days, it seems that a simple Christmas Carol (traditional songs or the Dickens story for example-your choice) passes for holiday entertainment. Not this year, however, at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA. Instead we have an original cabaret-style entertainment with three of the most extraordinary performers in the world of contemporary theater. Alysha Umphress, Alan H. Green and Joel Waggoner take the stage at the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, singing, chatting or simply giving one another knowing looks, and bring new meaning to the concept of celebration, one bounded on all sides by the idea of Scat. That's not a reference to the scatological, although at time it could be, but rather to the type of singing, of vocal-technique, that made stars out of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong and so many other jazz-based singers that informed my years of musical growth in the 1950s and 1960s. "Vocal improvisation with wordless vocables, nonsense syllables or without words at all" reads Wikipedia, "the singer improvises melodies and rhythms using the voice as an instrument rather than a speaking medium." All three of the BSC artists are remarkably adept at this style and like other wonders of the season - Santa Claus and flying reindeer, for example - it works!
Alan H. Green, Joel Waggoner, Alysha Umphress singing Silent Night; Photo: David Dashiell
Alan H. Green is fast becoming a favorite performer at Barrington Stage. He is a unique personality with a great singing voice and wonderfully endearing manner. He can offer style and originality to anything and he appears to be the perfect vocal collaborator to other artists. In this show he refers to his Texas roots, produces vocal improvisations with the best and often moves his listeners with his sombre solo work.
With so much unfamiliar music in this show, Green manages to present his songs with a sense of familiarity and ease that lets the songs themselves do all the work that charms us and warms us with the odd awareness of knowing where he's going and how he'll get there. Whether well-dressed or comically costumed he has the ability to share with us his comfort in whatever he presents.
He shares this with his co-performers and it is a gracious sharing indeed. Physically and vocally he is the perfect collaborator/star. In the realm of scat-singing he is agile and able and amply supplied with high and low notes, an easy slide and swoop and a sure improvisational style that allows him to move freely in and out of the tune that guides each and every song. Nothing in his work ever points to a level of exhaustion and he makes it all seem so easy that he almost encourages you to try and sing along.
I hope he will come back often to the stages of BSC and explore avenues unconceived as yet.
Alan H, Green; Photo: David Dashiell
Alysha Umphress; Photo: David Dashiell
I've thought, in the past, of Ms. Umphress as a funny woman who sings but as of this holiday she is a singer who has the knack for funny. She belts, she croons, she moves us and she shakes us. Her way with scat-singing is as right as anything produced by Ella or Carmen McCrea or Sarah Vaughan. While there have been other white scat singers, such as Amy Winehouse or Jane Monheit, Umphress seems unusually at ease in the technique, somewhat along the lines of Mel Torme or Bing Crosby.
She is extremely funny in this show giving it that touch of whimsy that seems so appropriate to the material, particularly "Christmastime for the Jews." This is just one example of the broad measures the creators/interpreters have brought to this luscious little evening which would not be as good as it is without the contributions of Alysha Umphress.