By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
“Music and storytelling merge at close range!”
Actor/singer Patricia Zentilli, one of the country’s most accomplished cabaret artists, says that’s the closest she can come to a definition of cabaret.
And Edmonton audiences will have a chance to share both with her Saturday night when Zentilli launches PattyZee@TheRoxy, a series of five themed cabarets that thread through the upcoming Theatre Network season on Saturday nights.
For the inaugural edition, her chosen theme is friendship. “I try to find songs that fit perfectly the moment,” Zentilli says of a repertoire that extends through the musical theatre, familiar and obscure, into the byways of pop, and beyond. “Songs that strike a big emotion with me”: that’s the prime requirement, she says.
In the course of the friendship cabaret, you’ll hear songs by Cyndi Lauper, Randy Newman, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jacques Brel in a new and personal context. Brel’s La Fanette is always sung by a man; Zentilli plans to sing it, from the perspective of a young girl whose best friend has moved on to other BFs. There’s a number from the Tony Award-winning musical Dear Evan Hansen.…
“It’s me singing as me.”
Pianist Liz Han shares the stage with Zentilli Saturday. Zentilli values the relationship. Cabaret is “a beautiful collaboration with a pianist. I think of us as musical partners, a team,” not as singer and accompanist.
Zentilli originally pitched Theatre Network artistic director Bradley a monthly cabaret series to run on Mondays, when theatre takes a night off. It was Moss who proposed that Saturday night’s all right for singing — the Saturday nights immediately following the five Friday night Hey Ladies! “info-tainment variety/talk show episodes scheduled for the Roxy Performance Series.
Each cabaret features special guests, one “seasoned pro and one emerging artist,” says Zentilli. “Young performers can come and sing a song in its entirety. It’s not an audition; it could be a part you’re never going to get!” Zentilli herself is the musical guest in the season-launching episode of Hey Ladies! Friday Sept. 29, along with actor/photographer Ryan Parker.
For her first PattyZee@The Roxy cabaret Saturday night Zentilli is joined by the veteran singer/actor Susan Gilmour and relative newcomer Vanessa Wilson. The October 28 cabaret is dedicated to the theme of fear, with the guest artist actor/singer/songwriter Andrea House. Citadel star John Ullyatt is up for the Dec. 2 edition. In February, the guests are from the cast of the Citadel’s upcoming Mamma Mia! (in which Zentilli herself stars as Donna).
And in May, Mother’s Day month, Plain Janes/ Teatro La Quindicina star Jocelyn Ahlf, who is one (a mother that is), will reprise her hilarious show-stopper from The Irrelevant Show. The Tantrum Song is a full-throttle operatic aria treatment of a tantrum from Ahlf’s then-four-year-old daughter. “O God! WHY do I have to be the responsible one!”
Zentilli, who easily straddles the frontier between cabaret and theatre (The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change), has done cabarets in Edmonton before. Feels Like Home, created with pianist Don Horsburgh, was spun from personal experiences on the road to true love, and a new life in theatre and motherhood in Edmonton. “It nearly gave me a heart attack,” she laughs. “I put it all on my credit card! The night before, there were exactly four tickets sold…. And then it was packed!”
For Saturday’s stories of friendship, Zentilli has a script. But she won’t be shackled to it. “I leave myself open to the dynamic of the audience on the night … sort of feel the evening out.
“I like to be authentic, to show my vulnerability. It’s fun. It’s terrifying,” she laughs.
Theatre: Theatre Network, Roxy Performance Series
Starring: Patricia Zentilli, Liz Han
Running: Saturday Sept. 30; also Oct. 28, Dec. 2, Feb. 3, May 12
Tickets: 780-453-2440, theatrenetwork.ca