"One of the brightest musical theatre talents in the Puget Sound area, Bobbi Kotula, debuted her autobiographical one-woman show Feels Like Home this past Monday at Renton Ikea Performing Arts Center before a wildly enthusiastic audience. Many of those in attendance were show business types, a kind of crowd is often inclined to be reserved and hypercritical. Instead, they warmly embraced Kotula’s eclectic (though predominantly musical comedy laden) songbook and her heartfelt, vocally rich performance."
Kotula is an unpredictable sprite of a chanteuse, and under David Bennett’s assured direction she simply soars. She raises laughter, and then bittersweet rumination, with her show opening rendition of “Life Is,” from Kander and Ebb’s Zorba. Her personal journey through years of a marriage, through its unraveling and her subsequent decision to focus herself on sharing the gift of her talents is the framework for a scrumptious variety of songs. Though a Pennsylvania native, her rendition of “I Hate The Sun” hit the bullseye with those of us who revel in Seattle’s often gray skies. Though she played then venal Mayoress Cora in a local staging of Anyone Can Whistle, her rendition of Sondheim’s yearning title tune proves she could just as winningly played Fay in that show. She illustrates the frustrations of trying to be the ideal wife, in the delicious, rarely heard “Perfect Isn’t Easy,” and employs Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane’s zesty “Why Him?” as a lively laundry list of her ex-spouse’s shortcomings. The folk/rock styled “Red Letter Love,” written for Kotula by Montana composer/lyricist Marilyn Hagen-Smith, addresses the marriages dissolution with passion, while the bittersweet “You Can Take the TV” by Craig Carnelia touches quietly, painfully on the dividing up of material possessions. A kick-ass rendering of “I Don’t Need A Man” shows the singer at her brassy, belty best.
Going back to her roots for a rousing “Pennsylvania Polka” offers a winning change of pace and musical styles, and the traditional hymn “Dona Nobis Pacem,” shared with musicians Sally Stroum and Dane Anderson, takes the show to its most serene place. David Zippel’s “Loud Is Good” fits Kotula as if he had written it with her in mind, and she travels to Avenue Q with a beautiful rendering of “Fine Fine Line.” The way Kotula and arranger Bruce Monroe set up “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” with an under tempo start that builds to a rushingly exciting climax, keeps us from giving a second thought to Barbara what’s her name. Randy Newman’s “Feels Like Home” is a warm embrace of a closing number, and “Over the Rainbow” was a nice encore, though something brassier might have been better in that slot. Throughout the show, Kotula makes you feel well cared for, as if she were just singing for a few friends in front of a fireplace (but with a lot more volume). Musical director/pianist Mark Rabe and a feast of local musicians, Dane Anderson, David Cole, Jon Miller, Bruce Monroe and Sally Strohm give the little lady eloquent and unwavering musical support.
Feels Like Home was performed as a one-night only event, but I prefer to think of it as a preview. It is unfathomable to think some local venue won’t be smart enough to snap up this endearing performer for an open-ended run.