Baltimore/Washington theater fans are very familiar with the wonderful E. Faye Butler. From her wonderful turn at the Arena Stage's hit Oklahoma to her incredible performance in Trouble in Mind (which I've seen at Center Stage, Arena Stage, and at the Yale Rep), to her portrayal in Caroline or Change and Dinah Was, Butler has done it all.
This week-end Butler begins the final Cabaret performance at Center Stage with her all-new act, "What a Difference a Diva Makes".
One credit I didn't mention was her role of Rosie in the national tour of the hit musical Mamma Mia! In that role she and her two soulmates sing the ABBA anthem "Super Trouper".
Well, last night, Butler was in fact a SUPER TROUPER. It was clear when she took the stage she was under the weather. Her allergies were acting up. She'd been to the doctor. She was coughing. She was drinking olive oil, yes....olive oil! She also recently had foot surgery and had to put away the high heels for flats. She had to sit occasionally.
But nothing would stop Butler. Even with all these complications, Butler was all smiles, kidding with the audience and giving a bravura performance. Yes, 50% of Butler is better than most.
Backed by her Chicago keyboard player/arranger Jeremy Kahn, bassist Eprhaim Woolford, and drummer Dominic Smith, Butler belted out twenty tunes, ten in each half that lasted about 45 minutes each.
She began with an uptempo "Lady is a Tramp" from the 1937 Rodgers and Hart musical Babes in Arms. She followed this with the lovely Stephen Sonheim treasure "Old Friends" from Merrily We Roll Along.
Next was "Them Their Eyes" with a nice Kahn solo, the Billie Holliday classic "All of Me". Then came the Etta James hit "At Last". She commented this was NOT a Beyonce number but Etta James!!
Bassist Wollford began "Teach Me Tonight" with a nice solo. The lovely "When October Goes" by Johnny Mercer and Barry Manilow featured lovely wire brushes from drummer Smith.
"What a Difference a Day Makes" brought make wonderful memories of her performance as Dinah Washington in Dinah Was. She then did another Washington song "I Wanna Be Loved".
She finished Act I with "Just In Time", "Old Black Magic" and "Flying Home" with some stella scat singing a la Ella Fitzgerald.
Act II began with "S'Wonderful" from the musical Funny Face by George and Ira Gershwin. Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing", the 1931 jazz classic followed.
A highlight was her rendition of "My Funny Valentine", also from the musical Babes in Arms.
Next were "It Had to Be You", the hilarious "My Handyman", "Sugar in My Bowl", "Blues in C", "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" (using the audience as her back-up singers) and "Long John", an hysterical story about a dentist.
The evening ended with the 1956 classic "The Party's Over" by Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green made popular by Doris Day.
Butler mourned the fact that this was the last of the three year old Cabaret series which she helped inspire with former Center Stage Artistic Director Irene Lewis. I hope one day, the series returns.
I'm sure Butler will recover over the week-end. Tickets range from $10-$30 and are available at 410-332-0033 or at www.centerstage.org/cabaret.