“A Little Sondheim…A Little Weill…” Professor Stages Her Own Cabaret

Betsy Bloom

Unfortunately, it’s not very often that I get the chance to see one of my professors performing in a musical cabaret. However, my big break came last Saturday when I was lucky enough to see Visiting Assistant Profes­sor of English and Theater Anne Beggs’s per­formance in “A Little Sondheim…A Little Weill…A Musical Theater Cabaret.”

The show’s name was deceiving: in my opinion, it really could have been called “A Little Bit of Everything.” Beggs, who was accompanied by the incredibly talented Dianne McDowell on piano, performed a total of 10 songs from various compos­ers. She began with the aptly named “Wel­come to My Party,” an attention-grabbing number from Michael John LaChuisa’s musical The Wild Party. The song set the tone for the night: big energy and impres­sive range. Beggs has a voice that can tran­sition from all-out belting to beautifully soft and haunting. And she did. Stopping only to take off her shoes (and put them back on), let down her hair (literally and figuratively) or to sip some water, Beggs threw herself into the changing styles and attitudes of each successive number with vigor and confidence.

Her voice took on a masculine tilt for the swingy number “All I Need is the Girl” from the musical Gypsy. After that, she transitioned to the higher pitch require­ments of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s “The Bilbao Song,” from their musical One Touch of Venus. Next came Ogden Nash and Kurt Weill’s “I’m a Stranger Here Myself.” The snappy, soulful tune really gave Beggs a chance to showcase her impressive range and operatic influences. During her rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s “The Girls of Sum­mer,” Beggs channeled the jazzy tones of a nightclub singer before moving effortlessly into the sensual and expressive “Speak Low” (also from One Touch of Venus). Beggs’s voice took on a much softer and sweeter quality for her performance of “Frank Mills,” a bal­lad from the 1960’s musical Hair. (She also played guitar during the number, though she offered the disclaimer that she was “the world’s worst guitar player.”) Then, as if switching musical styles wasn’t complicated enough, she switched lan­guages for Belgian singer/songwriter Jacque Brel’s haunting, “Ne Me Quitte Pas.” Beggs penultimate number was a heartwarming rendition of “Try to Remember” from Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s The Fantasticks. For the finale (and my favorite number), Beggs performed a brassy and powerful rendition of the Chicago favorite, “All that Jazz.” The audience willingly par­ticipated in the song, a sign they were truly enjoying themselves.

So, though this may have been the first time I was able to see a per­formance by a professor, the experi­ence has made me hopeful it won’t be the last!

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