“Songs of a Dream” Alfreda Burke and Roderick Dixon

REVIEWED BY: RUSSELL GOELTENBOLT

Husband and wife duo Alfreda Burke and Roderick Dixon brought their self-developed cabaret piece to the Roosevelt Auditorium Theater’s Katten/Landau Studio on Sunday, November 18.  The vocal duo is also known from their fabulous performances in the Auditorium Theater’s annual production of “Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah”. “Songs of a Dream” an original cabaret show, draws experiences from their own lives and relationship.  Alfreda Burke who is hailed by the Chicago Tribune as a voice that’s voluptuous, creamy and luxuriant”; and Roderick Dixon whose “voice has a quality like polished steel under tension–flexible and ringingly resonant,” did not disappoint in being entertaining. Although, some fine tuning should be done to improve this experience.  The very talented couple performed a diverse lineup of songs including Broadway favorites, spiritual gems and operatic treasures. Directed by Linda Brovsky with musical direction by Matt Long, “Songs of a Dream” is titled to tell the story of two driven musicians whose passion for music and each other resonates throughout their lives. However, the story needs to be told in a way that the audience can relate.

Cabaret has some basic requirements. Create a story, and tell that story through the music you are performing. In “Songs of a Dream” Alfreda and Roderick told a story. Although, the story they told was rehearsed,awkward, and unnatural. The story should be natural and portrayed as a natural conversation between the couple.  Additionally, there needs to be a conversation with the audience to bring them into Alfreda and Roderick’s lives. The slide show was unnecessary and did not relate to the story that Alfreda and Roderick were attempting to tell of their lives, careers, relationship, and family. This cabaret show would improve if there was more related patter, making the experience a little more of a “Steve and Edie, Sonny and Cher” moment, and invite the audience into their lives. This natural patter, with some added humor would provide a smooth transition to the songs they were singing.  It would also bring comfort to the audience. A cabaret show is very different from performing a concert. It needs to flow and to tell a story. Both Alfreda and Roderick were not successful in making this transition. This does not take away from their extraordinary talent. It is something they need to realize if they want to continue the art of cabaret.

Alfreda and Roderick have a wonderful musical chemistry. When they sang together you can see the love they have for each other, where few actors can duplicate. Their interaction and passion they provided when singing “Why Do I Love You” from the musical “Showboat”, and “Wheels of a Dream” from the musical “Ragtime” were dynamic and moving.  They encored with “ 525,600” minutes” from the musical “Rent” which was a perfect ending for the concert. Alfreda and Roderick also showcased songs from “Porgy and Bess”, a medley from “Jesus Christ Superstar”, “Chess”, “Carousel”, a spiritual titled, “Witness”, “I know “Why the Caged Bird Sings”, and “Halleluiah Broadway” from a PBS special that Alfreda performed in Prague.

Alfreda and Roderick were also individually able to showcase their talent. The opera aria “Vissi d’arte” by Puccini was performed by Alfreda, and a rousing “La Donna e mobile” by Verdi, was performed by Roderick. Both arias showcased the couple’s individual vocal talent and expertise. Although, Alfreda’s aria was a little strained. Roderick Dixon has a tenor voice that is so soothing and warm. His phrasing and passion for the songs he is singing is very apparent from his facial expressions and body movements.  Alfreda’s soprano is strong and resilient, and also provided the same passion when she sang.  Unfortunately, I believe that she may be fighting a sinus infection or a virus, because during her solo performance she seemed to be struggling to hit some of the higher notes, that resulted in a shrillness. None the less, Alfreda provided an enjoyable performance. However, I would like the opportunity to hear Alfreda perform again because I believe that her voice would provide so much more if she is able to use it to its capacity. In my opinion, Alfreda was much more comfortable when singing with Roderick, and in singing in a lower range. The couple sounded great together and provided perfect harmonies.  Being that Alfreda is a veteran of the classical and theater stage, I believe that she knew her limitations and did not want to strain her voice as much. This is very dangerous to a singer who is experiencing vocal problems.

“Songs Of a Dream” is co-produced by The Auditorium Theatre. In presenting a yearlong cabaret series, Auditorium Theater Executive Director, Brett Batterson is introducing some of Chicago’s most beloved performers to use this unique and intimate space at Roosevelt University. The space is also used for dance, comedy, and music shows, and provides rehearsal space for dance companies. It is also converted to a cabaret theater to offer performers a space that provides a unique and intimate experience. I do have to say the space is perfect for providing intimacy. However, as with all new venues, they remain a work in progress. The only improvement I would add is to install some softer lighting or sconces for these performances for before and after the show. The introduction to the harsh florescent lighting when you enter the space, takes away from the intimate mood that the space is trying to convey. The stage also needs to be dressed up a little more to continue this mood, and there really is no need for a video screen. It was very distracting. Other than those personal observations, the new Katten/Landau Studio is a perfect space for these cabaret series.   The acoustics are great, and the stage lighting provided the intimate experience when the florescent lights were turned off. As everyone knows, there are very few venues in Chicago to experience an intimate cabaret performance. Therefore, I am delighted that the Auditorium Theater has this venue that is also affordable.

I would like to see Alfreda Burke and Roderick Dixon do another cabaret show. I really love their voices and their performance.  Perhaps, they should either receive better direction, or use their professional instincts to make it work. This may result with a tighter show without some of the inconsistencies. It is so unfortunate that I see this direction issue surfacing with many of these artists and performances. I do believe that many of these performers have much better instincts than the directors to know their craft and what their audience likes. Many of the directors do not have the experience and look outside of the performance rather than on the inside, in order to make the experience work. I really don’t believe that many of these artists are receiving the guidance from their directors that they are looking for. The Chicago Cabaret Professionals offer Master Classes. These classes are excellent resources for building a cabaret act. Perhaps, some aspiring cabaret artists and their directors should enroll.