The bicoastal cabaret singer once known as “Weslia” Whitfield has dropped the “i” out of her first name and is changing venues -- but not her taste in music -- for her Off-Broadway debut, Life Upon the Wicked Stage, playing Oct. 13-Nov. 1 at the Kaufman Theatre on 42nd Street.
The San Francisco chanteuse, known for her sunny, swinging interpretations of pop standards and show tunes at New York spots such as the Algonquin Hotel, told Playbill On-Line she wanted to try something new, so in the solo stage show she'll weave anecdotes about her life with a songlist that includes “The Other Side of the Track” (from Little Me), “There’s No Business Like Show Business” (from Annie Get Your Gun), “Almost Like Being in Love” (from Brigadoon) and more.
The show, whose title is borrowed from a song in Show Boat, will play the Plush Room of the York Hotel in her hometown, San Francisco, Nov. 17-Dec. 31.
In New York, Whitfield said she chose an intimate theatre setting over a nightclub or lounge (her usual nest) because “when you’re in a nightclub you have to deal with eating and drinking,” and that might distract from the intimate stories she tells. Among her tales will be the rarely-discussed 1977 random shooting that left her unable to walk. The fiftysomething Whitfield will sing and talk about her view from “this position in life.”
Whitfield, whose on-stage collaborator is pianist-arranger-husband Mike Greensill, will chart her career from singing waitress to San Francisco Opera singer to cabaret star at the Algonquin Hotel, where she first appeared in 1993. Also new in 1998 is the spelling of her name, which used to be spelled “Weslia” and was always supposed to be pronounced “Wesla,” as it is among family and friends. But after years of people calling her Wes-lee-uh (because of the obvious spelling) she finally changed it to avoid confusion. All but one of her 11 recordings bear the name Weslia Whitfield.
As early as 1990, Whitfield was opening for Michael Feinstein concerts, singing a hip, optimistic version of “The Trolley Song.” Her early independent recordings are harder to come by, but such discs as “Lucky to Be Me” and her new release, “High Standards,” are common in record stores’ cabaret or vocal sections, particularly on the coasts.
The Kaufman Theatre is at 534 West 42nd Street, in New York City. Tickets to the show are $30-$35. Call (212) 239-6200 for information.
For Plush Room reservations in San Francisco, call (415) 885-2800.
-- By Kenneth Jones and Robert Simonson