The cabaret evening held in Mount Vernon College's chapel Sunday night (scheduled for a repeat tomorrow night) was a study in contrasts. It began with an intriguing program titled "Hidden Voices": a series of songs from movies that were sung by one performer (Marni Nixon, Marilyn Horne, etc.) while another (Audrey Hepburn, Joan Crawford, Dorothy Dandridge, etc.) lip-synced on the screen. The fine singer, making her Washington cabaret debut, was Milla (Ludmilla Ilieva), an established artist in New York, with pianist (and occasionally vocal duet partner) Jeffrey Chappell contributing significantly to a very polished performance.
The production, directed by Margery Beddow, established a feeling of intimacy, with Milla spinning out Hollywood anecdotes between her sweet, subtly expressive performances of such songs as "Funny Valentine," "April in Paris," "Speak Low" and "I Could Have Danced All Night."
After intermission, Joseph Perna, who has become familiar to Washington cabaret audiences in the past few years, performed a new program titled "I'm a Stranger Here Myself," directed by Tom Mallan with Andrew Earle Simpson at the piano. The material was in the cabaret traditions of Berlin and Paris, with songs of Kurt Weill, Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf and others, including Fred Ebb and John Kander, whose "Cabaret," probably more than any other source, has introduced Americans to this kind of music. In contrast to Milla's low-key, intimate style, Perna was "onstage" throughout the thoroughly scripted performance, alternately portraying two circus characters: an evil, domineering ringmaster and a psychologically challenged clown whose self-discovery and liberation are conveyed in spoken dialogue, songs and stage action of unusual energy, making ingenious use of the chapel's unique architecture (stairs and balconies as well as the performing space on the floor) for dramatic effect.
Both performances had a strong impact, enhanced by their contrasting styles. Tomorrow night's repeat performance will be followed by appearances of four other cabaret artists in the chapel: Ana Castrello and Debra Tidwell on Saturday; Sally Martin and Judy Simmons on Sunday.