BECCA KIDWELL’S “Show of Dares, Volume 2”: A Review

The opening number of Becca Kidwell’s bold, innovative Show of Dares, Volume 2 is Close Upon the Hour, from the underappreciated Broadway musical King of Hearts.  The lyrics of that song, for those like me who actually dare (ahem…) to listen to lyrics, brilliantly capture the evolution of Kidwell’s unique persona, both in this delightful one-woman performance and in the larger trajectory of Kidwell’s career.  As Becca enters the stage singing those lyrics, adorned by the perfect seasoning of piano by Tracy Stark, it’s the performative equivalent of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.   Later on, we hear priceless lyrics about growing the perfect roses your OWN way, for which the metaphors couldn’t be more explicit…. and, even further into the show, the audience is treated to Becca’s version of the timeless When You Wish Upon a Star (dared by Laurie Krauz).  Hmmm… are we detecting a theme here?  Kidwell is hardly a neophyte in show business: Since 2017, she has created five shows– one nominated for a MAC Award and another winning a Broadway World Award.  She was also part of the award-winning group show Meg Flather Songs: A Cabaret Sisterhood. (More about Ms. Flather later…) Even alongside her parallel critical acclaim and the respect from her cabaret peers, Kidwell has never lost her appreciation for her audience nor her personal aura of humbleness.  As she walked toward the stage at New York City’s Don’t Tell Mama for the evening’s first song, the audience sensed her vulnerability and idealism.  As the show progressed, the listeners became increasingly astonished by her talent… yet Kidwell always conveyed the aura of a performer who only sought to please her audience, as if it was her live cabaret debut.  So, even during moments when Kidwell is no less than phenomenal (for example, while delivering the feverishly romantic Where or When from Babes in Arms later on in the show…), Kidwell never loses her sense of vulnerability; it’s quite apparent that she gets reciprocal emotional nourishment from the appreciation of her audience and her fellow cabaret family.  

Even the very concept of Show of Dares, Volume 2, directed by James Beaman, is unique in its own right.  Every one of the 14 songs in the show is a “dare” from one of Kidwell’s peers in the cabaret scene, from the first song Close Upon the Hour (dared by Rian Keating), to the holiday-themed encore.  As a result, there was a wide variety of musical baubles packed into the 75-minute running time– from a jazzy version of the eternal classic Somewhere Over the Rainbow (dared by Sally Darling) to such gems as the brilliant, should-be holiday classic The Christians & The Pagans by Dar Williams (dared by Tracy Stark; Stark is also Musical Director of the show.). Having other artists pick your songs would be a challenge for any singer, even for one as experienced as Kidwell.  Words, Words, Words (Dared by Jeff Harnar) is a campy song from the musical The Witches of Eastwick.  It’s a funny song, indeed, but one that would also be challenging for ANY artist to sing. Kidwell meets that challenge, especially with that song’s last note.  Song of Roses, dared by Meg Flather, is a gem of a composition that seems perfectly suited for Kidwell’s plucky charms; So many metaphors and meanings can be interpreted.  Flather was in the audience, and she clearly watched the performance with pure bliss.  No More, from Into the Woods, (dared by Karen Mack) is a showstopper.  It is literally impossible not to be moved when hearing this one.  Stand Up, dared by Rosemary Loar, is about empowerment, a theme which Kidwell often speaks about at her shows and philanthropic events.  When her hardworking pianist Tracy Stark joins in on vocals, the result becomes absolutely transcendent.  A great moment came with No Bad News from The Wiz, dared by Mercedes Herman.  This is one of my favorite songs from musical theater of all time, so I was eager to hear Becca’s version.  She clearly made it her own… but I was still waiting, in the spirit of previous incarnations of the song, for Kidwell to… “Get down”!  And, indeed, she did “Get down”!… but she made the audience wait for it!  Of course, I’ve never met an artist, musically or otherwise, who hasn’t periodically challenged themselves– and Becca Kidwell dared herself with, appropriately, a song from her good friend and frequent creative collaborator Tracy Stark.  The song was called Greatest Nightmare— and Kidwell, donning a pair of dark sunglasses, showed a very different style with this one. 

As mentioned before, it would be a challenge for any singer to create a show entirely from songs suggested to them from other artists.  Becca Kidwell has always been candid about her own personal and professional challenges, often sharing a great deal with her audiences.  (You can even say that Kidwell’s latest show has just as much “truth” as it does “dare”.) One of the challenges, as we learned that night, was to perform love songs.  After hearing Kidwell deliver Gimme Gimme from Thoroughly Modern Millie (dared by Sean Patrick Murtaugh), a jury would unanimously rule that she should do more. How could you resist Kidwell singing lyrics like, “Here I am, St. Valentine! My Bags are Packed, I’m First in Line; Aphrodite, Don’t Forget Me, Romeo and Juliet Me!; Fly, Dove! Sing, Sparrow; Gimme Fat Boy’s Famous Arrow!… Gimme, Gimme That Thing Called Love!” In a medley of songs dared by Marcus Simeone, it’s clear that love songs, in all their assorted varieties, suit her very, very well. 

I won’t give away the encore, except to say that it’s only appropriate that the lyrics frequently mention “comfort” and “joy”.  The song, written by Kidwell and Tracy Stark, is indeed warmly comforting and fantastically joyous.

Show of Dares, Volume 2 is more than just Becca Kidwell daring herself.  The singer dares the audience to appreciate some of our most beloved showtunes in a new way.  She dares us to discover and even fall in love with some songs we’ve never heard before.  She dares us to be inspired by her own personal and professional challenges.  Most of all, she dares us to want more Becca.  All I can say to that is: Bring on Volume 3! 

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