Photo Credit: Susan Stripling
Becoming the Queen 2.0
The Triad Theater
Dec 8, 2019
In her regal cabaret debut, “Becoming … The Queen 2.0,” opera (and now cabaret) diva Regina Zona ruled the stage and conquered the hearts of her audience with the most splendid debut show this reviewer has ever had the privilege of attending: confident, sparkling, personal, and a triumph from start to finish.
Zona dramatized her transition from opera singer to cabaret chanteuse in her show’s first moments: standing with her back toward us while the PA system broadcast a recording of her singing the Queen of the Night’s vengeance aria, with its signature high Fs. Then she spun around and her band kicked in with a spirited medley of Raise The Roof (Andrew Lippa) and Welcome To My Party (Michael John LaChiusa) from competing versions of “The Wild Party.” There was no question this diva had found a new groove.
Zona’s story is similar to that of many performers who have crossed over into the world of cabaret, having passed their use-by date in some other genre: Shirley Jones, Barbara Cook. even the great Marilyn Maye. In this case, opera’s loss is cabaret’s gain. The arc of Zona’s show—a retrospective of the achievements and compromises of her fifty years on earth, and a glimpse of what’s to come—was well-supported by her canny song choices (some familiar, some new), and her masterful storytelling through song. Zona was born to sing cabaret.
She poked fun at herself with a dynamic reading of Applause (Betty Comden/Adolph Green, lyrics/Charles Strouse, music), then switched musical gears to the almost art-song-sounding Homage To My Hips (Gwyneth Walker, music, based on a poem by Lucille Clifton). She paid tribute to Barbara Cook (an artist to whom Zona invites inevitable comparison) with Wally Harper’s rhapsodic arrangement of Irving Berlin’s I Love A Piano, and evoked tears with Georgia Stitt’s surprise-ending story-song, My Lifelong Love. The patter linking these songs made sure her audience never lost sight of how each embodied an element in Zona’s story, and her open-hearted, nuanced, masterly interpretations kept that story perpetually authentic.
Musical Director Jonathan K. Parks re-enacted his role as Zona’s voice student (that’s how they met!) in the satirical I Love Teaching Voice (Ben Moore), adding an extra element of authenticity to the song. Zona displayed a different vocal palette in Here’s That Rainy Day (Johnny Burke, lyrics/Jimmy Van Heusen, music), an impeccably controlled, jazz-inflected, breathy straight tone. She dedicated that song, and the deeply-felt When Did I Fall In Love? (Sheldon Harnick, lyrics/Jerry Bock, music) to her wife, who was visibly kvelling in the audience.
In the final medley, a bossa-driven Before the Parade Passes By (Jerry Herman), which showed off Zona’s excellent band – Parks (piano), Sean Murphy (bass) and Mike Lunoe (drums) – morphed unexpectedly into that Act I closer-to-end-all-closers, Don’t Rain On My Parade (Bob Merrill, lyrics/Jule Styne, music). When Zona reached the line, “I’ll march my band out,” and indicated her band, the house burst into a spontaneous mid-song ovation. And her encore, Here’s To Life (Phyllis Molinary, lyrics/Artie Butler, music) provided the perfect summing-up: a final, self-aware, wise, loving, generous, and slightly sad farewell to Zona’s first fifty years, and a hopeful, accepting welcome to the fifty yet to come.
“Becoming … The Queen 2.0” showed Zona in her mature artistry, director Lina Koutrakos in peak form, and the art form of cabaret at its most realized. In spite of the cutesy title, complete with crown (which sat archly upon a stool throughout the proceedings) this performer exudes profound gravitas. Ditch the crown and own it, girl, I wanted to tell her—you already are a queen!