“I’m not a pop singer,” says Lisa Vroman, who will play a rare cabaret engagement at Feinstein’s at the Nikko next weekend. “I’m a classically trained soprano. And this show is a celebration of that.”
While she more typically appears in large concert halls, on bills like the recent An Evening of Rogers and Hammerstein with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, Vroman is looking forward to bringing her classic music theater style to Feinstein’s cabaret setting, accompanied only by renowned Bay Area pianist Joan Cifarelli.
“She’s amazing,” Vroman says of Cifarelli. “A jazz player who uses Chopin as a warm-up.”
Perhaps most familiar to San Francisco audiences from her lengthy local run as Christine in Phantom of the Opera, the Pasadena-based Vroman has also sung the role of Johanna in the San Francisco Symphony’s Emmy-winning PBS production of Sweeney Todd in Concert, and played Lucy Brown in an esteemed 1999 ACT mounting of Threepenny Opera that also counted Bebe Neuwirth among its cast.
Next spring, she’ll be featured with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus in the world premier of a new piece commissioned to Andrew Lippa (The Wild Party) in celebration of the chorus’ 40th anniversary.
Asked how she’ll modify her delivery for an intimate venue like Feinstein’s at the Nikko, Vroman explains “I don’t really change the way I sing. I don’t alter my voice—the muscles are set up technically to sing a certain way, and I have to be true to it.”
And so, she jokes, “There are a couple of things that are going to blow your head off. For good reason, of course!”
“But there is more intimate material as well,” Vroman explains, pointing to the late Barbara Cook’s performances as a model.
Cook, who first gained public notice as a theater singer showcased her extraordinary pure and soul-revealing soprano in cabaret settings for the bulk of a decades-long career.
“Her voice was like a porcelain vase,” recalls Vroman, with admiration.
“The main thing that will be different at these shows than what I do with a symphony,” Vroman explains, “is that I really get to step up my storytelling and spend time talking with the audience about what the songs mean to me.”
While Vroman’s repertoire at Feinstein’s will lean toward 20th Century musical theater and Great American Songbook selections by the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Jerry Herman, she finds much that’s deeply appealing in more contemporary theater music.
“I loved Light in the Piazza,” she says. “It was so beautiful. And I really like Ragtime because of the choral arrangements.”
“To be honest, though, while I can only sing what’s right for me, I can enjoy almost anything as an audience member. I mean Julie Andrews never did Mama Rose in Gypsy.”
To wit, Vroman is a huge fan of Hamilton. “I love how the physical storytelling is integrated with the music. And its such a leap from In The Heights for Lin-Manuel Miranda. You’ve got to wonder what he’ll come up with next.”
On the other hand, as a singing instructor—she teaches master classes to music theater majors several times a year—Vroman is concerned that many of the contemporary, pop-inspired musicals her students gravitate to don’t offer material that will help them develop as singers.
“There’s a bit of an issue with the influence of pop style on theater music in the past 20 years. Kids need to work with music that will help them learn muscle control and the kind of technique that will let their voice stand up to eight performances a week. My goal is to make them as successful as possible.”