Lillias White With Seth Rudetsky, The Wallis, Beverly Hills, March 30, 2023
Apr. 2, 2023 | By Bruce R. Feldman
In Brief: Two irresistible forces met on Thursday night at The Wallis in a memorable evening of show tunes and lively storytelling.
Intimate, first-rate cabaret as a Los Angeles nightlife option doesn’t exist anymore.
Long gone are the days when you could see Eartha Kitt at the Cinegrill, Sarah Vaughn at the Parisian Room, Joe Williams at Concerts By The Sea, or Bobby Short at his annual Wilshire Ebell stop.
Feinstein’s at Vitello’s debuted a few years ago with fanfare – Michael Feinstein was the opening attraction – then hobbled along during COVID, and now has officially shuttered.
The Jazz Bakery – the lone survivor of this group and once notorious for its uncomfortable plastic lawn chairs – has gone dormant, claiming to be on the verge of reopening, but when?
Nowadays singers whose repertoire draws from The Great American Songbook, Broadway musicals, and the like are relegated to infrequent one-night stands at The Soraya, Disney Concert Hall, sometimes Royce Hall, or other cavernous venues.
Some artists don’t even make it to Los Angeles. If you want to see Patti Lupone or Brian Stokes Mitchell this season, you will have to drive 90 minutes each way to The Segerstrom in Orange County.
(You also will have to pay $99 for a seat at The Segerstrom, $15 to park, and another $15 for a drink. That comes to about $250 for two people, not to mention gas at $5 per gallon, for a 90-minute concert in a just under 3,000 seat hall that you must spend three hours in your car to get to and back. That’s entertainment?)
White’s got a big, expressive I’m-still-here voice and an animated personality to go with it.
The good news for the Gershwin deprived is that The Wallis in Beverly Hills is doing its part to remedy the situation.
The arts center transformed one of its performing spaces into a true cabaret setting, a 140-seat night club with tables and chairs, for an annual run of shows from seasoned performers like Tierney Sutton and Steve Ross. Closed since the COVID lockdown, that was a project of recently departed executive director Paul Crewes. It remains to be seen if his replacement Robert Van Leer will continue the series.
The Wallis does continue to present artists like Chita Rivera and Kelli O’Hara in their stylish Bram Goldsmith Theater, which at about 500 seats isn’t exactly clubby, but it’s a lot cozier and more comfortable than the hangar-sized halls mentioned above.
This week Broadway star Lillias White and pianist and host Seth Rudetsky took over The Wallis stage with an evening of popular song and personal anecdotes that was exhilarating, hilarious, and an overall joy.
Both entertainers are New York favorites, and for good reason. They’re tremendous talents.
White has been a beloved Broadway performer for over 40 years in featured roles, including in Chicago, as Matron “Mama” Morton and in the Matthew Broderick revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, as the fevered vocalist in the show-stopping “Brotherhood of Man” number. Currently she is one of the leads in Hades Town.
White’s got a big, expressive I’m-still-here voice and an animated personality to go with it. She can strut around the stage belting the comic “If You’re Good to Mama” from Chicago or the jazzy “Those Hands,” from the little-known Cy Coleman and Alan and Marilyn Bergman musical Like Jazz, transform into a sophisticated chanteuse on Coleman and Leigh’s witty “When in Rome,” or turn tender and wistful on the ballad “Soon as I Get Home” from The Wiz.
She’s also a gifted raconteur, delightfully describing how she got her first job in a bus-and-truck company of The Wiz, how an unknown Madonna dropped out of an early Broadway show they both were rehearsing to “become a recording artist,” or how she had to audition many times for Michael Bennett to land a part in the Los Angeles cast of Dream Girls and then telling Bennett that she wouldn’t go to Los Angeles.
That she relented, moved to California for the run, and went on to perform in various companies of the powerful musical, turned out to be a good thing for us. White called to the stage from the audience two former Dream Girls cast members who joined her in recreating some of their powerful numbers from the show. This brought down the house.
The evening’s success wasn’t only White’s. Rudetsky’s attentive piano accompaniment served the singer first and foremost, then filled the hall with rich tones when called for. Rudetsky is much more than an expert musician, he’s also an unabashed M.C., asking forthright questions of White and drawing out hilarious stories and ad libs from her.
It was a pleasure to be in the presence of two such energetic, accomplished entertainers for an all too brief 90-minute set. The only question now is, when will they be back at The Wallis to do it all over again? Until then, next month Rudetsky returns to The Wallis on May 4 with Broadway pro Stephanie J. Block.
“Lillias White With Seth Rudetsky," The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 746-4000, www.thewallis.org