Cabaret of connections leaves audience smiling

By Bridget Hoyt

The Spitz was abuzz this weekend as the cozy, 90-seat black box theater housed a welcome crowd of eager listeners to Rider Student Theater Company’s “The Six Degrees of Sierra Boggess,” a cabaret undertaking the challenge of joining seemingly unrelated acts through unexpected commonalities. With a stunning display of talent set against a wacky and witty concept, a palpable effort from the creative team and cast came to fruition for viewers to enjoy.

Running March 29 to 31, the playful cabaret, directed by sophomore acting major Olivia Dostal, featured musical numbers and the occasional spoken scene from 16 bodies of work, each adding to a chain of connections originating from Boggess, a Broadway superstar.

The production’s premise was based on the parlor game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” where players attempt to connect a person in Hollywood to the actor. Each link between the person and Bacon adds a degree; if an actor has not worked with him  but has worked with someone Bacon has as well, the actor is two degrees away. 

It is a game I used to apply to Broadway actors like Boggess as a middle school theater geek, even testing how many degrees of separation existed between myself and her, so a nostalgic excitement was piqued when I heard  about RSTC’s homage to my longtime favorite Broadway performer and adolescent idol.

Boggess’ robust resume connects her to endless theater legends, even including multiple Broadway billings each alongside stars like Tyne Daly, Norm Lewis and Chip Zien. She is best known for her appearances in multiple high-profile productions of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera,” and has graced the stage in contemporary works such as musical adaptations of “The Little Mermaid” and “School of Rock,” but this short list does not scratch the surface of her extensive career.

For this reason, I envisioned the cabaret to be a showcase of these varied roles.

In practice, the concept was executed differently than I had imagined. The show began with a song from “The Little Mermaid” and connected it to “Les Miserables” through Boggess’ stardom in both shows using the degrees of separation logic, then swiftly moved to the next concept without further mention of Boggess.

The stream-of-consciousness-style cabaret, while not exactly what I expected, delivered an entertaining throughline for source materials ranging from Broadway classics like “Sweeney Todd” and “Funny Girl,” to sitcoms like “The Office” and “Glee.”The production’s unique concept not only grabbed the audience’s attention, but kept it, with what I found to be an amusing and relatable exaggeration of the trains of thought I frequent, somehow finding its way from “Sunday in the Park With George” to “Shrek the Musical.”

Performances were backdropped by a charming scrapbook-style slideshow illustrating how one vignette led into another, demonstrating relationships like two musicals being written by Stephen Sondheim. This montage set the tone for the night, with further eye-catching illustration provided by two symmetrical walls of colored pieces of paper connected by string, each page revealing the next musical or TV show when uncovered by a performer.

The almost entirely freshman and sophomore cast of altos and sopranos made its way through a collection of character songs and ballads alike with grace and chutzpah, navigating the broad expanse of subgenres with precision. Among the company were powerhouse belters and masterful mixers, even singers who jumped dexterously between octaves to accommodate songs written for a baritone range.

A few of the many notable performances included Emily Taylor Kaufman’s boisterous portrayal of Fanny Brice from “Funny Girl,” singing “I’m the Greatest Star,” in which the sophomore musical theater major commanded the room with an unwavering belt and mesmerizing embodiment of the larger-than-life character. Also worth mentioning was sophomore and freshman musical theater majors Bella Mraz and Julia Almendra’s duet, “Move On,” from “Sunday in the Park with George.” They created a captivating scene, largely highlighting Mraz’s skillful soprano range and the pair’s on-stage chemistry.

While the goal of making as far a connection as possible to Boggess was achieved, the title may have been misleading: I couldn’t help but feel a bit “bait and switched” by the promise of “connecting Broadway’s network of performers to Sierra Boggess” made by RSTC’s description of the event on its website and Instagram page. Throughout the night’s stunning performances, I was slightly distracted by the expectation of some eventual connection back to Boggess’ vast body of work. If nothing else, I guessed that the closing song at least would bring us back to Boggess.

Despite this supposition going unmet, the closing song, a stirring rendition of “Being Alive” from “Company” by the full cast, featuring freshman musical theater major Regan Wright as Bobby, moved the audience to its feet for a standing ovation before the cast had even started bows. 

What I anticipated being a tribute to one of my favorite performers was not quite that; nonetheless, I left The Spitz with a smile on my face, more than happy with a night of outstanding performances and creativity by my peers.

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