Julian Eaves reviews Tony Award winner Ali Stroker’s appearance as part of Seth Rudetsky’s online concert series.
The Seth Concert Series with Ali Stroker and Seth Rudetsky
11 April 2021
Seth Concert Series Website
Miss Ali Stroker may not be very well known in the UK, but she will be a lot better known – perhaps – by anyone who catches this peerless intimate cabaret, from a total mistress of the genre. She began with a smashing surprise proposal/engagement story – the content of which was pure musical-comedy – and thus, wisely, the stage was set for the dialogue and the songs all being from the same ‘voice’!
And the way Stroker tells it, there would be few details of her biography that would look out of place in the best plotted, most sparklingly witty musical show. ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair’, from Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s, ‘South Pacific’, said as much, too. It segued into another anecdote of backstage life, all about that number and how tricky it is to play, etc.
Her big break, of course, came at the age of 7, when she was cast in the lead in ‘Annie’, and caused a sensation when the production premiered in her back yard. It was at this point la Stroker became convinced of her life’s mission: to sing and dance (with a little acting mixed in)!
But we should never forget her opening mood: smoochy cabaret. A little more brass crept into a return of this with another splendid soft-pop ballad, ‘Be A Lion’ from Charlie Smalls’, ‘The Wiz’. And another! ‘The Rainbow Connection’ (as sung by Kermit the Frog, etc.) by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher, was a hit in the Seventies – and it still is a delicious tune, with a lush, Sixties-ish lyric, cool without trying to be hip.
Yet, where she does get really ‘street’ is in talking about the kind of life you can have in the theatre with a disability: Stroker has hers and uses a wheelchair, but this hasn’t stopped her from winning the Tony Award for what she did with Ado Annie in ‘Oklahoma!’ in a recent runaway success Broadway revival. ‘Here You Come Again’, however, by the constantly under-estimated Dolly Parton, brought us back to crooning cocktail bar singers and tinkling glasses, flutters of laughter from private parties barely paying any attention to the ‘singer’, while the chosen few (us!) get to ear-ball on the shifting sands of the balladeer’s treacherous love-life.
Next up: ‘Hopelessly Devoted’ from ‘Grease’ (John Farrar’s dining-out card for all eternity). Nailed. And then, Andra Day’s hotly passionate and laceratingly precise analysis of a failed devotion, ‘Burn’, a call-to-arms for all would-be jilted domestic arsonists. Stroker can do it all. She is it all.
But her Playwrights’ Horizons ‘big break’ (into grown-up life!) came via this show’s often mentioned Ryan Scott Oliver, who – as a mere lad – put her into a new show that did well (it became, ‘Mrs Sharp’) and she got noticed. We got a smashing belt of ‘I’m Just A Girl Who Cain’t Say No’ from this week’s Sing-Off winner, Rebecca – a song that really brings out the best in excited youngsters, apparently.
After this, Stroker smoothed over any ruffled hair with, ‘Kind Of Woman’, from The Great Schwartz’s, ‘Pippin’. Thence into ‘You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman’ (Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Jerry Wexler), with cool harmonies from maestro Rudetsky. Then came the humdinger, the cri-de-coeur of the wild Ado Annie in R&H’s constantly re-invented drama of the old, new West, ‘Oklahoma!’.
Cooling off after this heated outburst, we got a hastily shaken and bracingly refreshing cocktail from Pasek and Paul, ‘A Million Dreams’, from their own dining out card, ‘The Greatest Showman’. And a very grand finale of, ‘Suddenly Seymour’ from Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s ‘Little Shop of Horrors’, a well-chosen pop-centred send-off for all the social misfits and oddballs who somehow find themselves and their true calling – however appalling! – in the lovely crazy world that is musical theatre.