The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

It's said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and in the case of British actress Jane Horrocks her admiration for and impersonation of some of the most renowned torch singers led to the development of a unique play entitled The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, now in its regional premiere at the Arvada Center.

Photo of Chris Reid (Billy) and Vanessa Lemonides (Little Voice)
Chris Reid and Vanessa Lemonides
Photo credit: P. Switzer
Playwright Jim Cartwright's fictional story is centered around Little Voice (LV), a painfully shy young woman who, having lost her loving and caring father, retreats from the world and her co-dependent relationship with her alcoholic mother into her room where she listens to the likes of Judy Garland, Billie Holiday, Marilyn Monroe, Edith Piaf, Shirley Bassey, and others, and amuses herself by uncannily imitating them.

Part of director Rod Lansberry's challenge was to find someone capable of pulling off what Horrocks had practiced and perfected her whole life. After extensive auditions, Lansberry found the talented and engaging Vanessa Lemonides who, for the most part, pulls off this difficult task, hooking us from the start with an dead-on rendition of Holiday's "Lover Man". In fact, the only place she falters in the slightest was in trying to pull off Barbra Streisand, who was added to this production to Americanize it. Here Lemonides has an easy enough time capturing Babs' idiosyncrasies and style, but, alas, not her rare dynamics.

Another odd directorial choice was, at the climax of LV's long awaited performance, Lemonides performs without any of her character's ever-present reticence. This would have been a perfect time to remind us that it was the thought of her father, and her father's picture, that convinced her to go through with this set in the first place.

Though Little Voice's talent is the main attraction in this piece, it is her desperate alcoholic mother that dominates the story. Here, Beth Flynn wrings everything possible from Mari's pitiful, vulgar, and self-centered life and yet is able to draw laughs for Mari's outrageous ironies. Flynn's gutsy low-life depiction is matched by Jamie Milholland as Ray Say, a washed up talent manager with an equally depraved lack of moral principles.

Jaime Lujan, Chris Reid, and Rob Johnson provide great supporting ensemble work as Mari's daft companion, Little Voice's equally introverted love interest, and the humor challenged local club owner.

Despite a book that never quite overcomes its gimmicky origins, this well acted piece provides its share of emotional hits and a believable catharsis for LV. The Rise and Fall of Little Voice runs through May 5th at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. 303-431-3939.

Bob Bows


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