Dallas — She gave us a taste of her flair and finesse at last year’s Dallas Cabaret Festival, but this year, Saycon Sengbloh brought a full-fledged feast of style and musicianship as Saturday night’s headliner.
Held in the lake-level basement space of the Bath House Cultural Center, Denise Lee’s Dallas Cabaret Festival celebrated its fourth year last weekend. With an established record of show-stopping guest artists, including the likes of T. Oliver Reid and Cynthia Scott, the festival has certainly branded itself as one of DFW most exciting new ventures in performing arts, and this year did not disappoint.
A renowned singer, actor, and Tony-nominated Broadway star, Sengbloh’s great prowess and charisma are felt almost immediately when she dons the stage. Her illustrious reputation precedes, with credits that include Broadway stints like Aida, Wicked, The Color Purple, and the play Eclipsed, for which she received that Tony nom, as well as a recurring role on ABC’s hit political drama Scandal. Though, even with such lofty credentials, the Atlanta native was immediately relatable with a warm, down-home, Southern charm.
And it fit so effectively, too, with her self-branded style of “vintage pop soul,” as she called it. Opening with Alicia Keys’ “Unbreakable,” she set the mood with a sizzling energy that would prove to drive momentum through the entire evening. Sengbloh’s soulful interpretations blend effortlessly with a technical brightness in her voice, yielding vocal stylings that are engaging and full of character.
She moves with grace through songs from some of her most cherished Broadway experiences, like “Without You” from Rent and the boisterously rousing “Easy as Life” from Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida. Sengbloh’s power and energy bely her tiny frame in all the best ways, with a wide low-range that connects smoothly to a velvety middle and glimmering top.
Her care and reverence toward Sarah Vaughan’s jazzy inflections served as enriching complements to her powerhouse Broadway stylings. She brought a sensual, luscious playfulness to classics like “The Man I Love,” “Black Coffee,” and “Lullaby of Birdland,” with an intonation that blended her natural warmth with dark, introspective tonal coloring.
To finish off the night, Sengbloh and Lee, longtime friends and respected colleagues of each other since they both appeared in Will Power’s Stagger Lee at Dallas Theater Center,united on stage for an endearing, heartfelt homage to Sengbloh’s stint as the first black woman to play the popular role of Elphaba in a Broadway production of Wicked. Together, the two sang the duet “For Good,” one of the show’s quintessentially beloved numbers.
Accompanied by artful and skillful local musicians in the band, the cohesion and joy was nearly palpable, which is one of the things that makes the DCF so special. Denise Lee’s offering continues to prove a reliable source of laughs, tears, warm company, and most assuredly, excellent music. And with the purported renovations soon to come to the Bath House Cultural Center, I can only imagine that next year’s festival will be even better.