There was absolutely no question that Broadway doyenne Lillias White had the crowd at Feinstein’s at Hotel Carmichael completely enthralled when she made her debut at the swanky Carmel club on Friday, July 9, the first show of a two-night run. Adding to the evening’s stellar entertainment was the superb musicianship of her pianist extraordinaire and music director Mathis Picard, together holding court in the posh room that is the newest cabaret bearing Michael Feinstein’s’ name.
I have seen my share of some of the world’s top cabaret artists over the years, but rarely have I seen such spontaneous interaction with an audience as that of White’s. Early on, she revealed how nervous she was, though one certainly couldn’t tell based on her rapport with the crowd, but then again, that might have been her secret weapon. Disclosing her fear seemed to dispel the stage fright and the audience seemed to love her all the more when she shared her vulnerability. It was clear the receptive crowd loved the human connection with White and each other, an element we all sorely missed during the pandemic.
Thoroughly engaging her audience, Tony Award-winner White was captivating as she offered up a setlist that included songs from her newest album “Get Yourself Some Happy!” that will be released on July 23. Showing off her powerful vocals, she combined her singing prowess with a performance that conveyed a larger-than-life personality and an attitude that was part sassy and flirty, but all in playful, good fun.
Highlights of White’s show demonstrated her versatility for singing multiple genres. Her setlist, which featured Broadway, jazz, R&B, and rock songs, included “You’re My Best Friend,” “When You Wish Upon a Star,” featuring an arrangement and phrasing like none I have ever heard from any other singer, the bluesy “Bread and Gravy,” and the jazzy “Shulie a Bop,” which illustrated her facility for scatting, which she will further demonstrate in her next album that pays tribute to Sarah Vaughn.
Picard maintained a dual focus on both the keys and White throughout their performance, portraying an intimate connection that was extraordinary in its synchronicity, all the while wearing a smile that was truly beguiling. Picard replaces White’s longtime music director-accompanist, the late Timothy Graphenreed who passed away on March 1, 2020. His performance provided ample evidence that he is more than a worthy successor to complement White’s inestimable talent.
A consummate entertainer, White is one of those performers who delivers the goods on all that can be expected from one who has starred in major musicals. As the pandemic winds down, her show just reinforced all the joy and exhilaration that only comes from seeing live entertainment starring a member of Broadway royalty.