San Francisco chanteuse Wesla Whitfield is a hit in her Off-Broadway debut, Life Upon the Wicked Stage, but the song must end Nov. 1 at the Kaufman Theatre.
A spokesman for the hybrid cabaret-bio said the first two weekends for the show were largely sold out following her Oct. 13 opening. A rush of fans is expected this weekend. Her following in New York is rooted in her 1993 debut at (and subsequent returns to) the Algonquin Hotel.
Whitfield, known for her sunny, swinging interpretations of pop standards and show tunes at nightspots on both coasts, told Playbill On-Line she wanted to try something new, so in the solo stage show she weaves anecdotes about her life with a songlist that includes "The Other Side of the Tracks" (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 sings and talks about her view from "this position in life."
In Wicked Stage, Whitfield, whose on stage collaborator is pianist arranger-husband Mike Greensill, charts her career from singing waitress to San Francisco Opera singer to cabaret star at the Algonquin and elsewhere.
New for the singer in 1998 is the spelling of her first 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