When Lindsay Roginski was sixteen, she traveled to New York City and saw her first Broadway musical, Chicago.
That night she said to her mom, “One day I am going to be in this show.”
Lindsay believed she had “IT.”
As a young teen, Bronx, NY native N’Kenge realized she had a voice reminiscent of Marian Anderson and Jessye Norman. As a result, she diligently started studying the music of such classic vocalists as Whitney Houston, CeeCee Winans, and Mahalia Jackson.
N’Kenge believed she had “IT,” too.
Lindsay Roginski grew up to fulfill her dream and play the leading female role of Roxy Hart on Broadway in Kander and Ebb’s long-running musical, Chicago.
And N’Kenge went on to star on The Great White Way too, originating the role of Mary Wells in Broadway’s Motown: The Musical, and promptingMotown Records founder Berry Gordy to call her “the most versatile artist I know.”
Both of these women recently lit up the stage on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at The Grunin Center of the Arts in Toms River, NJ as a part of a new show: American Showstoppers: An Evening of Kander and Ebb.
American Showstoppers is a series of live concert performances which pay tribute to outstanding Broadway composers. Organized and presented by Broadway arranger, conductor, and pianist Fred Barton, previous Showstopper tributes have focused on the theatrical contributions of such legendary Broadway composers as Irving Berlin and Richard Rodgers.
Each Showstopper tribute features Barton — not only known for his work in New York as co-creator of the long-running show, Forbidden Broadway, but also for his composing work on TV’s The Magic School Bus and Eureeka’s Castle — along with a 14-piece orchestra and a large cast of Broadway singers and dancers.
At the Grunin Center, the most recent edition of American Showstoppers spotlighted the work of the Broadway composing team of John Kander and Fred Ebb. Kander and Ebb made a name for themselves by writing the music and lyrics for such well-known Broadway hits as Cabaret, Woman of the Year, and Kiss of the Spider Woman, not to mention Chicago — the longest running revival in musical history.
They also worked together writing songs for such films as Funny Lady and New York, New York and for TV productions including Liza Minelli’s multi-Emmy-winning Liza with a Z television special.
As the audience takes their seats and the lights dim inside Toms River’s Grunin Center auditorium, conductor and emcee Fred Barton welcomes the crowd with a presentation of a lively dance number, Kander and Ebb’s title song from the 1991 film, Stepping Out.
Starring in this number is none other than Lindsay Roginski.
Roginksi was taught to sing and play the piano at a very early age by her grandmother, a big band jazz singer in the 1930s and ’40s. She started dancing at the age of five.
After high school, Lindsay came to New York City where she studied at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy conservatory for the performing arts.
In NYC, her first job involved selling souvenir programs at the very theater where Kander and Ebb’s musical, Chicago, was playing. Working in this environment gave her an opportunity to study various aspects of the musical during each performance.
Eventually, Lindsay auditioned for the National Tour of Chicago and landed the role of Roxie Hart, ultimately playing the role on Broadway.
In addition to her work in New York, Lindsay went on to star in a two-year run as a principal singer in Steve Wynn’s ShowStoppers at the Wynn Las Vegas resort and casino.
And even more recently, she’s made her New York cabaret debut at such well-known venues as Manhattan’s The Metropolitan Room, the Iridium Jazz Club, and Feinstein’s/54 Below.
Beyond Roginski’s captivating performance on “Stepping Out,” another highlight of American Showstoppers features N’Kenge singing her heart out on a number called “Go Back Home” from the Kander and Ebb musical, The Scottsboro Boys.
Called by composer Burt Bacharach “an amazing talent that needs to be heard,” N’Kenge’s interest in music began at the age of three when her mother enrolled her in dance and piano classes.
Realizing she had vocal talents too, as a teenager, N’Kenge went on to become a successful singer, winning a Lena Horne Singing Competition scholarship, a Leiber and Stoller Award presented by The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), and the Leontyne Price Vocal Competition.
N’Kenge made her Broadway debut in Sondheim on Sondheim with Vanessa Williams and Tom Wopat before originating the role of Mary Wells in the smash, Motown: The Musical, where the New York Post called her performance “electrifying.”
These days, she also performs solo concerts at venues like Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center and is regularly seen as a soloist with such groups as the Indianapolis Symphony, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the New York Pops.
With her beautiful voice and stage presence, N’Kenge provides an irresistable performance worthy of the term: American Showstopper.
Additional highlights of American Showstoppers include N’Kenge’s emotional performance of “The Money Tree,” a song from Kander and Ebb’s show, The Act, which originally starred Liza Minnelli.
On this number, N’Kenge lets loose and wails. By the end, at least one audience member can be heard uttering, “Oh, my God!”
Not to be outdone, Lindsay Roginski and company present a showstopping performance of the opening song from Chicago, “All That Jazz,” which is followed by an all-hands-on-deck performance of Kander and Ebb’s theme song from Cabaret which has the entire audience on their feet applauding.
After the show, we interview several audience members and ask them to share their thoughts about the evening’s presentation.
Two friends, Joe from Brick and Maryann from Toms River, call the performances in American Showstoppers “wonderful,” going on to add, “We enjoy so many of the shows here at the Grunin Center — we’ve seen five or six already this season.”
Likewise, Gerry and John, a husband and wife from Toms River, exclaim, “we love American Showstoppers” thanks to it’s “great mix of music.”
We also interview Lindsay Roginski and N’Kenge who chat about their experiences performing live here at the Jersey Shore.
Lindsay, who originally hails from Ohio, tells us she “loves to perform in New Jersey” and, as a result, “would love to come back and perform here again.”
Says N’Kenge, “This was a fun crowd — a warm crowd,” exclaiming, “they know how to have a good time,” while also adding, “and for that, you can’t go wrong with Kander and Ebb!”
And for us, as we make our way out of the Grunin Center theater, we can’t help thinking about one of the least known songs from tonight’s performance of American Showstoppers — a number which was cut from the musical Chicago, but was included in tonight’s line-up by Showstoppers’ creator Fred Barton.
On this duet, with their scintillating display of talent, Lindsay Roginski and N’Kenge not only demonstrate they are worthy of the show’s title, American Showstoppers, but also — just as they believed when they were younger — prove to everyone present that they truly have “IT” when it comes to live on-stage musical theater magic.
And just what is the title of this rarely-heard Kander and Ebb gem?
To learn more about Lindsay Roginski, please go to lindsayroginski.com. For more on N’Kenge, please see nkengemusic.com. For further information on great upcoming performances at The Grunin Center — including What’s Going On? The Marvin Gaye Experience on Mar. 29, singers Roseanne Cash and John Leventhal on April 6, and Jimmy Webb: The Glen Campbell Years on Apr. 22 — please go to grunincenter.org.Photos by Love Imagery
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