Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
While introducing Alyssa and the program, WBTT Artistic Director Nate Jacobs talked about how blessed he feels; he started his career in children's theater and now has opportunities to work with performers of different ages and at different stages of their careers. I would like to turn that around because there is a solid core of goodness in Mr. Jacobs, and artists are blessed to experience working with such a fine man.
Alyssa White is a powerful singer, and she attempts everything and anything that captures her imagination. The program ranged from multiple Michael Jackson songs through Alan Menken, Luther Vandross, David Foster, Anita Baker, and several others. When she has become a fully mature artist she will find her center a bit more than she has more. As an example, when Barbra Streisand was even a bit younger than Alyssa she sang a very wide ranging repertoire, yet everything had a quality that was uniquely Ms. Streisand's. Alyssa gave us a glimpse of her potential to do this later in the program but is not able to do so consistently, yet.
The first half of the program opened with "The Way You Make Me Feel" with Ms. White in sex kitten mode, which she couldn't quite sustain because 20% of her wanted to reach back and be daddy's little girl. Mind you, she has everything required to play this part, but the will. After "We Are Here to Change the World" performed by Alyssa's backup dancers and singers came Derric Gobourne, Jr. in a feature dance number to "Remember the Time." Mr. Gobourne, Jr. is another of the young people I have kept a strong eye on; he has been featured as a dancer in multiple WBTT productions, and I have always been impressed by the sheer strength of his movement, but this number upped the ante for what he is capable of. He owned that stage for five minutes, full of swagger, sass, and style. The number had variety and at the end the audience couldn't figure out if it would be ok to jump to their feet. If I had any suggestions at all, it would be to bring the ending of the number back to the intensity of the opening if only for a few moments, to complete the circular journey.
Ms. White re-entered in a gorgeous sheer white outfit that showed her beauty at its best. During this segment she shared a lot of stories about her relationships with her family and others and when she was done, she had thoroughly left the stage littered with strong emotion. I was left with the feeling that Alyssa might also have untested acting talents, or at least I haven't seen her test them. The singing was all fine, but she attempted too many styles, not quite making all of these songs her own. One highlight of this part was a duet with Marc Dortch, "So in Love." This young man is another great talent, one that I have not heard before. Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz's "God Bless the Outcasts" from The Hunchback of Notre Dame proved to be another highlight, as Alyssa connected with Quasimodo's deep pain.
The second half opened with "To Know You Is to Love You" shared with Sheldon Rhoden, who seemed to raise Ms. White to new levels of artistry. Mr. Rhoden starred as Marvin Gaye a few years back, a performance I reviewed as one of the finest by a male in a leading role that season, and every time I see him take the stage I can count on goosebumps, he is such an accomplished artist. The duet suggested that Alyssa will benefit from working with other seasoned performers.
Alyssa again took center stage and showed the audience that she can take several songs in differing styles and make them all her own. The songs included "You" by Jesse Powell, Bonnie Bramlett and Leon Russell's "Superstar," "Love T.K.O." by Teddy Pendergrass, and the evergreen "For All We Know," credited to John Bunch, Joshua Colbert, Derick Cordoba, and Chad Neptune. The last song really showed Alyssa's awesome potential because she took the song away from its natural idiom, still respecting the its greatness. These 20 minutes convinced me of something I already believed deep in my heart, that Alyssa White is potentially a Star. The show closed with everyone joining in on "Before I Let You Go" by Frankie Beverly.
Congratulations to everyone who participated; there was a group of five back up singers and four dancers, including Mr. Gobourne, Jr. whose names were not supplied to me. Every one of them added luster to this showcase.
To Mr. and Mrs. White and Alyssa's three brothers, I hope you will take the time to soak up the Nachas, which is a Yiddish word for joy, that Alyssa's success brings to all of you. It was a complete joy for me to see such beautiful family in action, especially mother and father greeting everyone.
A Tribute to Love: An Evening with Alyssa White, presented by Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe Young Artists Program, May 23, 2016 at 1646 Nate Jacobs Way, Sarasota, Florida, 366-1505. For more information, visit westcoastblacktheatre.org.