Motown songs, old-school standards and the elegant, breezy compositions of Burt Bacharach are just a few musical stylings that audiences can look forward to with the Richmond Performing Arts Alliance’s upcoming Legends on Grace series.
Beginning with Desirée Roots’ “Classic Motown” show Saturday and concluding with Debra Wagoner’s “Judy, Liza and Me” on May 9, this occasional cabaret series aims to provide concertgoers an intimate setting with some of Richmond’s leading lights.
With “Classic Motown,” Roots says she aims to take audiences back to the 1960s, even borrowing costumes from Virginia Repertory Theatre’s 2016 production of “Dreamgirls” to heighten the effect. So far, Roots says putting together the show has been easy, as songs from groups like the Supremes and the Temptations are already so well-known.
“It’s stuff that everyone’s familiar with,” she says. “I can see it just becoming a big sing-a-long show. We’re actually planning to have that in the format, to give the audience a space to participate, because it’s going to happen.”
Roots, whose efforts onstage have won her a Richmond Theatre Critics Circle Award (Griset is a circle member) and Theresa Pollak Prize for Excellence in the Arts, will be accompanied onstage by Jerold Solomon and a five-piece band. A local performer who has also won an critics circle award, Solomon’s credits include the 2008 Broadway revival of “South Pacific” and the national tour of “Ragtime.”
As to the appeal of Motown some 60 years after Hitsville, U.S.A. got its start, Roots says there’s just something universal about these songs.
“With my generation, it’s what we grew up with. It’s what our parents grew up with. It’s that feel-good music,” she says. “It’s the lyrics everyone can relate to. It’s the songs that tug at your heart, and it’s just that era of positivity.
“Bring your dancing shoes and get ready to sing along and have some fun.”
Sticking with the 1960s theme, Dec. 7 will see the “RVA Rat Pack” show, starring local actors Scott Wichmann, Alexander Sapp, Jason Marks and Anthony Cosby-Knowles. Though they’ll be singing several standards, Wichmann says the act will be more inspired by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin than a full-on tribute.
“We’re not necessarily aping the actual Rat Pack from the 1960s,” explains Wichmann, a three-time Critics Circle winner who is currently starring alongside Sapp in Virginia Rep’s “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” “While it will sort of pay respects to the original Rat Pack, it’s going to be a little bit more tailored to [our] personalities.”
Next up, local singer and songwriter Susan Greenbaum will hit the stage with “The Magical Music of Burt Bacharach,” a tribute to the prolific 91-year-old composer, songwriter and performer. As songs like “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” “(They Long to Be) Close to You,” “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” and “Wishin’ and Hopin’” have seen so many incarnations from different artists, Greenbaum notes that many forget that they were written by Bacharach.
“He’s just brilliant, and looking at the list of songs that he wrote, I think people would be shocked,” says Greenbaum, who’s won multiple awards for her songwriting. “We want to bring that to life. He writes very, very melodically, and is also extremely good at matching the melodies and rhythms to whatever lyrics he’s writing.”
Backed by a five-piece band, Greenbaum says she will explain to her audiences the connection between Bacharach’s music and her own work.
“We’ll do some of my songs as well, because I’m going to try to intersperse songs of mine where you might be able to hear some of Bacharach’s influence,” she says.
Rounding out the series is Debra Wagoner’s cabaret “Judy, Liza and Me” on May 9. Mixing the standard tunes of Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli with her own repertoire, Wagoner says she aims to capture the feeling that the mother-daughter performers inspired in her at a young age.
“It’s the way that they interpret a song,” says Wagoner, a two-time Critics Circle winner. “It’s the way that they tell a story through a song. It’s not about vocal showmanship or how many vocal riffs you can do in the song. It’s about the emotion and authenticity.”
She likens the performance of a cabaret song to that of a musical, in that you need to impart information and emotion at the same time.
“That’s how you make the premise of any musical work. When you break into song, you’re furthering the story, and that’s what keeps it honest.”
Richmond Performing Arts Alliance’s Legends on Grace series’ first show, “Classic Motown,” takes place on Oct. 5 at 2 and 7 p.m. at the Dominion Energy Center. For information, visit rpaalliance.com.