Charmed Life: From Soul Singing to Opera Star fills the tidy Urban Stages theater with the eagerness and warmth of Lori Brown Mirabal whose autobiographical show this is.
Appropriately, Mirabal enters singing “Musetta’s Waltz” from Puccini’s La Bohème. Her voice, initially a tad forced, becomes clearer, more confident and full as the evening progresses buoyed by her enthusiastic telling of her life story. (To be fair, the soprano who sings this role has a long scene leading up to this difficult aria to warm up her vocal chords.)
She gets to sing everything from the Patsy Kline classic “Crazy,” “Respect” (made famous by Aretha Franklin), and “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess to generous, beautifully acted scenes from Bizet’s Carmen, her favorite role and the highlight of the show.
The setting, a comfortable, slightly formal room (by Jaime Terrazzino) also includes a convenient grand piano played by John DiPinto (who alternates with Allison Brewster Franzetti), clearly delighting in collaborating with this warm-hearted diva.
She frequently takes bits and pieces of clothing from a trunk, mostly accessories, smoothly changing herself into different characters.
The driving force of Charmed Life is Mirabal’s tale of her pleasant childhood as the middle child between four brothers, all brought up by a big-voiced pastor father and a Ph.D. mother who died way too young.
An experience as an eight-year-old in a Girl Scout camp reinforced her belief in the power of her voice to win friends, a power that she used generously in a career that ranged from appearances as Bess in Porgy and Bess, Queenie in the Hal Prince production of Show Boat, Ella in Bubbling Brown Sugar, and the title role of Carmen in the New York City Opera National Tour.
She won the Miss Talented Teen Tennessee competition with her rendition of the title song from the musical Purlie which became her lucky audition song. At one of those auditions she was encouraged to pursue an operatic career which she did at the University of Memphis and Opera Memphis.
Cab Calloway, the star of her touring Bubbling Brown Sugar company, was one of her mentors as was Mr. Clay, her ballet teacher who taught how to put herself fully into her songs. Both were instrumental in guiding her into her operatic career.
Throughout the show, a portrait of Mirabal in costume, a gift from her father, morphs into vintage photographs of her family and close friends, many of whom she lost when AIDS ravaged the theater community. Mirabal’s writing is skillful and almost childlike in her enchantment with singing.
Director Vincent Scott clearly knows how to channel Mirabal’s energy and shape her episodic script. Lighting designer Madeleine Burrow creates minor wonders on the tiny stage.
During the show Mirabal quotes Maya Angelou: “People may not remember what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”
Lori Brown Mirabal leaves her audience feeling happy for making the acquaintance of a dedicated artist and an optimistic person.
Charmed Life: From Soul Singing to Opera Star (July 9 – August 1, 2021)
Urban Stages, 259 West 30th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.urbanstages.org
Running time: 75 minutes