Nova Y. Payton appeared on the Washington area theater scene in her Helen Hayes Award-winning turn as Motormouth Mabel in Hairspray at Signature Theatre. Since then she has appeared in three more Signature shows: Xanadu, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and as Effie in Dreamgirls (for which she has been nominated for another Helen Hayes Award this year). So it is no surprise that Signature Theatre has provided the fabulous Nova Y. Payton with her own cabaret showcase, being performed through this Sunday.
In her supercharged, yet quaint, cabaret directed by Raquis Da’Juan Petree, Nova speaks with the audience from a set made up to look like her dressing room before a major concert. The set is filled with dressing room furniture including a desk and a table with a make-up mirror. Photographs of family members and clothing are sprinkled throughout. Nova reveals that her cabaret will tell her life story until now, and answer the questions, “Who is Nova? Why is she special?”
Nova tells her moving biography, interspersing it with songs and costume changes. We learn that Nova grew up in a gospel-infused Catholic Church with her mother and older brother, James. She sang an octave higher than others and her brother called her ‘Squeak.’ She studied dance at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City. Nova then sings “Astonishing” from Little Women and performed a spectacular version of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Funny Girl. She almost blew the roof off The ARK!
As Nova describes her loves and marriages and her first gig in a tour of Smokey Joe’s Café, she belts out “Fools Fall in Love” and “Mean to Me.” Her memories of a second marriage that gave her a son and almost took her out of the country, lead her to sing a gorgeous rendition of “Home” from The Wiz and the rousing “Love on Top.”
Being the mother of a young son, Michael, Nova was very affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy and she sings a couple songs to commemorate the tragedy, including Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.”
Nova’s cabaret is very cozy and comfortable with bursts of energy whenever Nova sings. Soft lighting by Erin Jones helps set the intimate atmosphere. Crisp sound mixing is provided by Matt Rowe.
A particularly enjoyable part of the show is Nova’s recollection of first becoming part of the Signature family, and then singing some great songs from her Signature shows, including “I Know Where I’ve Been” from Hairspray, “Evil Woman” from Xanadu, and “I am Changing” from Dreamgirls – all showing off her great vocal skills and talent.
Nova paid tribute to her grandmother and sang a gospel duet with her mother, complete with a Gospel choir (‘Favour’ from Saint Martin of Tours Catholic Church).
Finally, as if starting the concert she has pretended to prepare for, Nova sang a soulful version of “Defying Gravity” from Wicked. What a way to end an amazing evening with this brilliant singer!
The show’s song selections were varied (Nova is adamant that “she won’t be put in a box”) and sung with Nova’s incredible power and emotion. She is backed by three terrific back-up singers, Iyona Blake, Lauren Du Pree, and Daphne Epps, and superb musical accompaniment from Hamilton Hayes on bass, Joel Tate on drums and Musical Director Darius Smith on the piano.
Nova has been a wonderful addition to the Signature family and this amazing cabaret is a fine chance to learn more about SuperNova!
Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.
Nova Y. Payton–Defying Gravity: the Making of a SuperNova plays through Sunday, March 17th at Signature Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 820-9771, or purchase them online.