Karen Volpe

Reviews

BWW Reviews: Karen Volpe's CD DINNER IN A FANCY DRESS

Actress/singer Karen Volpe has her own CD at long last called Dinner and a fancy dress. This is an album of all new pop country tunes written by Chuck Pelletier. Volpe's first association with Pelletier was his college musical The Green Room, which has received productions internationally from LA to Ireland. Volpe sang one of the most popular songs in the musical "It's All About Me"; in fact, she recorded it. And displaying her versatile talent in such other musicals as Funny Girl, The Pajama Game, Oklahoma and GCT's next show Little Shop of Horrors, she has established herself as one of the leading musical actresses to beat, in and around LA. 

On the stage she is incomparable. But can she sing country? Who does she think she is, Linda Ronstadt? If you remember, Ronstadt astounded her fans by championing just about every musical field in existence. Just when she won over sceptics with Pirates of Penzance, off she went to Nelson Riddle arrangements of romantic ballads. The story has become legend. Well, I'm here to tell you that Karen Volpe's velvety dulcet tones suit beautifully the genre of country song storytelling. She has won - and with her very first solo CD.

I could hardly believe my ears as I listened to this delightfully upbeat and amusing eight-song collection. First of all, the songs by Chuck Pelletier are totally unlike the other songs he has written. The Green Room understandably comes out of his theatre background, but I never realized he had such a feel for country western music. Of course, I'm no expert in the genre, but it sure as shootin' sounded every bit as real and tuneful as what I've heard Conway Twitty, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Wynona Judd et al sing - infectious, soulful stories about all sorts of love and laced with such humor. "I Drink Because I Love You" is but one example of that down-to-earth honesty that makes divorce an illusion. If this song had been written fifteen years ago, and I had really listened to the lyrics, it would assuredly have saved my partnership! Great, real-life gutsy comic songwriting it is, and the delivery by Volpe, exceedingly versed in comic interpretation, helps to put it right at the top of the heap - should be a # one hit! On the other side of the fence there's the beautifully poignant "Daddy, Will You Love Me?" sung so sweetly and truthfully by Volpe, about a woman looking to the afterlife to secure at least some affection from her cold-hearted father. This is a standout ballad, which could also be a runaway hit. There's lots more fun with "Never Came Back" and "No Money Down". There's nothing like a great country song to tell it like it is, but still leave you hummin' and coming back for more good common sense.

Chuck Pelletier's jubilant songs brought copiously to life by Karen Volpe, whose vocal style never ceases to amaze, makes Dinner and a fancy dress an album you'll want to own. Take my word for it, I'm not a country fanatic, but Dinner and a fancy dress sure has changed my tune. What's next for Karen Volpe? The sky's the limit for this endlessly talented gal!

Visit www.karenvolpe.com to order your copy.

 



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FUNNY GIRL


If the best reason to see Broadway’s Funny Girl in 1964 could be summed up in a name (Barbra Streisand, for those living under a rock), then the same can be said for its current revival at Downey Civic Light Opera. That name is Karen Volpe, the triple threat who first caught this reviewer’s attention as Ado Annie in DCLO’s Oklahoma! a few years back and now dazzles in the proverbial role of a lifetime.

 Funny Girl is, as any true musical theater aficionado will tell you, the story of Broadway and film star Fanny Brice, centering on the comedienne’s rise to stardom and on her rocky relationship with entrepreneur/gambler Nicky Arnstein.

Despite admonitions from family and friends against a career in show business (“If a girl isn’t pretty like a Miss Atlantic City, all she gets in life is pity and a pat”), young Fanny truly believes that “I’m The Greatest Star,” and goes on to prove it in production numbers like “Cornet Man,” “His Love Makes Me Beautiful,” and “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat,” ending up a headliner in the world famous Ziegfeld Follies. Accompanying her on her road to stardom is the tall, dark, and handsome Mr. Arnstein (“I Want To Be Seen With You Tonight”), who finds in Funny Fanny an attraction that simply cannot be denied (“You Are Woman, I Am Man”). Still, as any country singer will tell you, falling in love with a gambler is risky business, and though it doesn’t bode well for a happily-ever-after ending, it does give Funny Girl one of the greatest torch songs ever in a Broadway musical (“The Music That Makes Me Dance”).

With music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, and book by Isobel Lennart, Funny Girl does end up spending too much time on its peripheral characters (the movie adaptation savvily cut “Who Taught Her Everything” and “Find Yourself A Man,” i.e. virtually every song not sung by Streisand), but when the focus is on Fanny, the musical hits one high note after another.

 Director Marsha Moode simply could not have made a better choice for Funny Girl’s title role than Volpe, whose performance pays tribute to Streisand’s all the while making the role of Fanny most definitely her own. Like her illustrious predecessor, Volpe’s comedic chops captivate from the get-go even as her unconventional beauty sneaks up on you little by little. She’s also likeable as all get-out (a must for any Fanny), sings with one hell of a belt, and demonstrates the kind of razor-sharp comedic timing that Fanny herself must have had in spades.

Other roles pale next to Fanny’s, but that doesn’t mean they don’t offer their performers ample opportunities to shine. As Nick Arnstein, Downey CLO favorite Robert Standley combines leading man good looks and charm with some fine musical theater pipes—and has great romantic chemistry with Volpe to boot. Other fine performances are given by Sandra Tucker as Fanny’s mom Rosie, hoofer extraordinaire Peter Schueller as her best chum Eddie, John F. Briganti as Florenz Ziegfeld, Osa Danam as neighbor Mrs. Strakosh, and William Crisp as Tom Keeney.

Director Moode adds many signature touches to the production, with choreographer Denai Lovrien giving the huge cast plenty of fancy footwork to execute, particularly in Ziegfeld Follies production numbers. Musical director Jimmy Van conducts the Downey Civic Light Opera orchestra with flair.

Supporting roles in Funny Girl’s cast of thirty eight are filled by (among others) Michael McGreal (John, Ziegfeld Stage Manager), Kit Wilson singing gorgeously as Ziegfeld Tenor, Aleesha McNeff (Maude), Araceli Applegate (Polly), and Dee Wilson (Mrs. O’Malley). Also adding energy and pizzazz are Jessica Brusilow (Keeney Girl, Rose), Steven Chavarria (James, Pianist), Greg Hardash (Sammy), Espiridion Magana (Joe), Callie Prendiville (Keeney Girl, Rose), Derek Rubiano (Howard, Ziegfeld Director), Kyle Van Amburgh (Herbie), Frances Wulke (Ida, Ziegfeld’s Wardrobe), showgirls Rachael Meyers and Chelsea Vann, dancers Anne Arreguin, Israel Cortez, Nicole Davey, Marisa Martinez, Anne Schroeder, and Matthew Thurmond (Cornet Man), ensemble members Jacqueline Case, Kristian Espiritu, Randy Long, Karen Merrill, Eric A. Peterson, and Katherine Washington, and children Clair Bowen, Grace Bowen, and Devon Cornair.

 Lighting designer Jacqui Jones and sound designer Jay Lee do terrific work as does technical director Gary Richardson. Set designer Mark W. Keller uses mostly scrim backdrops on the Downey Theatre’s large center stage, but merits a big thumbs-up for the best and most detailed sidestage sets I can recall at the Downey Theatre, ideal for the intimacy of scenes taking place in Fanny’s dressing room, Rosie’s kitchen, or the restaurant where Nicky takes Fanny out on a date. Elizabeth Bowen’s costume designs are detailed and plentiful, despite exhibiting a rather haphazard attention to Funny Girl’s mostly 1910s timeframe. Sally Casey Bell is stage manager.

Anyone who has anything to do with Southern California musical theater owes it to him or herself to catch Karen Volpe in her tremendous star turn as Fanny Brice—and that goes for average everyday musical theater fans as well. The divine Miss V earns every single second of her standing ovation.

Downey Theatre, 8435 E. Firestone Blvd., Downey
www.downeyciviclightopera.org
–Steven Stanley
June 3, 2011

KAREN VOLPE: DINNER AND A FANCY DRESS


 Karen Volpe first caught my eye in her Scenie-winning featured role as Ado Annie in the Downey Civic Light Opera production of Oklahoma!, about which I wrote, “Volpe is a classic funny girl comedienne who recalls 40s and 50s comedy star Judy Canova.” Last year, Karen booked the role of a lifetime, Fanny Brice in DCLO’s revival of Funny Girl, prompting another StageSceneLA rave: “Director Marsha Moode simply could not have made a better choice for Funny Girl’s title role than Volpe, whose performance pays tribute to Streisand’s all the while making the role of Fanny most definitely her own.” Following Karen’s Best Lead Actress Scenie for Funny Girl came the role of Babe Williams in this spring’s The Pajama Game, about which I wrote: “This ‘Funny Girl’ can play a romantic lead with the best of them, sing hit after hit in her splendid belt of a voice, and look darned cute and sexy in one ‘50s outfit after another.” Karen now brings in the summer of 2012 with the release of her first solo CD, Dinner And A Fancy Dress, and another starring role, this time in Glendale Centre Theatre’s upcoming in-the-round production of Little Shop Of Horrors.

 Dinner And A Fancy Dress spotlights Karen in Country And Western mode, singing up a storm, accompanying herself on guitar, and (funny girl that she is) having one heck of a great time belting out some of the funniest, cleverest country lyrics ever (by songwriter Chuck Pelletier). In the bouncy “Never Came Back,” Karen laments her man’s untimely departure with a philosophical “He went for beer and he never came back.” “Daddy, Will You Love Me?” and “It Comes Easy” have Karen singing a pair of gorgeous country ballads …  and breaking more than a few hearts along the way. Still, it’s up-tempo songs like the twangy “That Ain’t Love” (“If it looks like love and it feels like love but it smells a little funny, honey, that ain’t love”) the sing-alongable title song (“It’ll take more than dinner and a fancy dress to rescue me from this mess”), and the down-home “I Drink Because I Love You” (“The more I love you, the more I drink”) that allow Karen to do what she does best, keep an audience laughing even as she belts with the best of them.

I was delighted to catch up with Karen recently and chat about her love for country music, her recent stage performances, and some exciting projects on the horizon.

Karen, the country music flavor of Dinner And A Fancy Dress is a bit of a change from the musical theater songs we usually hear you sing. What made you pick this particular genre for your CD as opposed to a more Broadway or pop sound?

The very first music I ever learned to sing was country music. I grew up in a very rural part of Western New York State surrounded by farms and pastures. Everything about my upbringing was country. My father was a country singer and played the guitar. As my brothers got older, he taught them the guitar and drums and even taught my mom the bass guitar. By the time I was eleven or so, I was fronting our family band and playing weddings, graduations and VFW halls.

So how did you end up doing musical theater?

I only started singing in musicals as a way to get to sing. All I ever wanted to do was sing. It didn’t matter what kind of music or where, but my first love has always been country. It is who I am, through and through. I love the stories, I love the pain, I love redemption. When I hear classic country music I am home again.

All the songs on the CD are written by Chuck Pelletier, who also wrote the songs for the musical The Green Room, on whose cast recording you perform the role of diva Divonne. How far do you and Chuck go back, and how did this latest collaboration come about?

I think I met Chuck Pelletier around 2004. I know it was when I auditioned for a staged reading of his new musical The Green Room. I was cast as Divonne and got to sing the show-stopping number, “It’s All About Me.” Chuck and I immediately hit it off and became friends. He learned about my love of country music and asked me to listen to a few of his original country songs. Little did I know, he’d been writing and producing country demos for years with a group of musicians in Nashville.

So what was it about Chuck’s songs that appealed to you the most?

The most important element to his writing wasn’t just that the songs were catchy and had a great hook, but they were funny. He was writing smart, clever, sassy female country songs where the women didn’t take themselves too seriously. It was the perfect collaboration. My biggest musical inspiration is Lyle Lovett and I feel that Chuck’s sense of humor is very similar to his. We even made it to the semi-finals of a short-lived reality show on CMT called “Can You Duet?”

Is there one particular song on the CD that you most enjoy singing?

I really enjoy something different about all of the songs on the CD, but if I had to choose just one, I would have to say “Never Came Back”, because it’s so challenging lyrically. Oh, and it’s also a bear to play on guitar.

StageSceneLA readers know you from your starring roles in Oklahoma!, Funny Girl, and most recently The Pajama Game. Let’s start with Ado Annie in Oklahoma! What was your favorite part about playing the girl who “Cain’t Say No”?

I first played Ado Annie in 5th grade and, to be honest, my performance didn’t change much when I played her as an adult! I never thought of her as “easy.” I always believed that she just wanted to be loved. She would do anything to get a guy to love her …anything! Oh, and I also think she was kicked in the head by a horse as a small child.

I know that Funny Girl holds a special place in your heart. Since the musical is so rarely revived, what was it like for you to book this kind of star vehicle and to play such an iconic role?

 I think the advantage I had to playing Fanny Brice was that I never saw the movie Funny Girl and I really didn’t know much about Barbra Streisand. I knew she was iconic, but I never really listened to her so I wasn’t caught up in what people expected. All I knew was that the musical had the word “Funny” in the title and I thought to myself, “Hey, I’m funny. Maybe I should try out for that.” I’m thankful to Marsha Moode for taking a chance on me and giving me the opportunity of a lifetime. I just trusted that Marsha knew what she was doing and followed her lead.

As a comedienne yourself, did you feel any special connection to the role of Fanny Brice?

Actually I have a lot in common with her. I learned early on as a child, the only way to keep kids from picking on me was to be funny and make fun of myself first. I was always a bit of an ugly duckling and used comedy to get people to like me. If I made the jokes about myself first, they didn’t hurt so much. I’ve read that Gilda Radner used to do the same thing.

I understand that Babe Williams in The Pajama Game was a bit of a change of pace for you and that you had some trepidation about playing a “Doris Day” kind of role. Can you talk a bit about that, and about how you ended up feeling about playing a bit against your usual “funny girl” persona?

 The first thing the director Marsha Moode told me when she cast me as Babe Williams was, “You can’t rely on your old bag of tricks. You can’t be funny.” That scared the heck out of me. How was I going to get the audience to like Babe and want to go on this journey with her for two and a half hours if she wasn’t funny? I soon learned that being charming, endearing, interesting and a spit-fire can be just as interesting as doing slap-stick or hamming it up. It was the first time on stage where I wore false eyelashes and worried about if I looked pretty. I can’t hold a candle to Doris Day in the looks department, but I think I did all right.

You looked darn pretty to me! Moving on to other things, you’re also a writer-producer-performer with The Movie Guys Live! at The Second City Hollywood. That sounds like yet another 180 degree switch from either musical theater or country music. What exactly is The Movie Guys Live!?

 The Movie Guys Live! is a one-hour sketch comedy show all about movies. We perform a new show the first Thursday of every month at the Second City in Hollywood and we’ve been running there for over a year.

So how did the show come about?

My husband Paul Preston and I started The Movie Guys in 2009 as a podcast with the ultimate goal to make it into a television show. We’re both alumni of The Second City in Toronto and Chicago and have extensive experience in improvisational comedy and sketch comedy writing. Next to country music, my second love is comedy, the Second City and Gilda Radner.

With two back-to-back starring roles on your résumé, regular Second City appearances, and a brand new CD coming out, it would seem that Karen Volpe is on a roll. So what would you most like to see happen next, career-wise?

Wow, when you say it like that it all sounds so very exciting! I’ll be playing Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors at The Glendale Center Theater starting August 23 and will be starring in a one-woman show, The 12 Dates of Christmas, in North Carolina and New York in November.

I couldn’t be more thrilled for you to have such exciting projects in the month ahead!

Thanks!! It all comes down to the fact that I love performing. I know that sounds corny, but I am at my best when I am either making people laugh or singing my heart out. My ultimate dream would be to have a country singing career like Lyle. I want to make people laugh, break their hearts and then make them laugh all over again.

What’s the game plan for getting the word out about Dinner And A Fancy Dress in this Internet age? Do you have plans for public appearances or live performances?

I’m currently in the planning stages of a CD release party for Dinner And A Fancy Dress. My CD is available for purchase/download on CDBaby and soon will be available on iTunes, Amazon.com and Facebook. You can also visit my websitewww.karenvolpe.com for info on public appearances and live performances.

I wish you all the best with your new CD and in anything else that might be upcoming in your career!  Can’t wait to see you in Little Shop!

Thank you Steven, you’ve always been a wonderful advocate and supporter of my work. Your enthusiasm and love of performers is inspirational!

Karen’s official bio:
Karen Volpe got her first taste of improvisational comedy while attending Jamestown Community College (as if that isn’t comedic enough). It was during a choir trip to Toronto that she saw The Second City for the first time. After that she was hooked.

She transferred to Fredonia State University where she graduated Cum Laude with a BFA in Musical Theatre. While at Fredonia, she met up with her comedy partner and future husband, Paul. They began performing their own two person sketch/improvisational shows and studying at The Second City in Toronto. Together they were hired by The Beechwood Theatre Company in Rhode Island and The Pocono Renaissance Faire and eventually moved to Chicago to continue their study of improvisation at The Second City and Improv Olympic.

In Chicago, Karen played a bridesmaid in Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding and “Unpacked her Adjectives” in Schoolhouse Rock Live! Karen has also performed with Second City Communications and Disney Cruise Line. More recently, Karen performed at the Cinegrill in the famous Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard in the three-girl singing group musical The Taffetas as well as the long-running original musical “Bark!”. She has provided voices for the audio dramatization of the best-selling novel ‘Tribulation Force’.

One project Karen is most proud of is producing, and playing Gilda in Bunny Bunny: Gilda Radner, a Sort of Romantic Comedy, raising $2700 for Gilda’s Club.

Karen’s biggest accomplishment on stage was her recent run at Downey Civic Light Opera as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, which played to rave reviews and full houses!

www.karenvolpe.com
www.themovieguys.net
www.cdbaby.com/cd/karenvolpe