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Andrea Bell-Wolff Reviews

Reviewed by Chris Struck for Cabaret Scenes
"Andrea Bell Wolff shared her stories of chasing love around America through an intriguing and diverse set list that featured heart-pumping renditions of great pop hits, from Florrie Palmer’s “Morning Train” (“Nine to Five”) to Carrie Underwood’s “Two Black Cadillacs” (Underwood/Hillary Lindsey/Josh Kear). Wolff, mesmerizing in a black dress and gold heels, started off her set with “Colored Lights” (Kander & Ebb) and “Prisoner of Love,” which was commissioned for the show and written by the late, great Barry Levitt and the show’s director, Peter Napolitano. Wolff went to the depth of her voice on that heartwarming tribute, as well as a handful of others and, when she did, it was fantastic.

Her timing and rapport with her band made all the difference as she displayed powerful vocalizations that sent shivers down my spine. The percussionist Howie Gordon synched especially well with the singer. Where his thundering rolls ended, her voice began with just as much gusto. Violinist Rob Thomas and bassist Boots Maleson added the classy touch which made the evening feel like a night of entertainment at the Ritz Carlton. Finally, pianist Matthew Martin Ward stepped in for “The Maestro,” Barry Levitt, and did very well. His work on the keys blended into the rest of the crew superbly. I felt spellbound at times as I watched the performance."

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Reviewed By Marilyn Lester
"Prisoner of Love is ultimately a complete story in and of itself. It’s about the ups and plenty of downs of a single girl’s
quest for a man to love her. The narrative, kept to a wise minimum of just enough, plus the superb, eclectic music choices,
are part of the unfolding of the tale; but, it’s Wolff herself who puts the cherry on the sundae. Her delivery of the numbers
with plenty of flair emphasizes the insightful storytelling aspects of the lyrics.

Her opening was a very dramatic “Colored Lights” (John Kander/Fred Ebb), which more than set the stage for the kaleidoscopic trip to come. The scene setting was underscored by the title song written by director Peter Napolitano and Barry Levitt. Wolff’s voice is on the girlish side, making her interpretation of “I Think That He Likes Me” (Michael Kooman/Christopher Dimond) all the more accessible. (With more cynical numbers later in the show, she controls that aspect of her vocalizations by hitting lower registers.) From expectation, Wolff takes us through the various stages of a relationship, travelling from “If I Take You Home Tonight” (Paul McCartney) to harsh realities. Her take on “It’s a Man’s World” (James Brown/Betty Jean Newsome) revealed a smart twist on the lyric, shifting the point of view to the feminine, just by a clever emphasis of words.

Much of Prisoner of Love was a look into the dark side of relationships. That scoundrel, the cheating man, appeared in several numbers, including “Guess Who I Saw Today” (Murray Grand/Elisse Boyd), “Other Lady” (Ellen Weston/Lesley Gore) and the searing “Two Black Cadillacs” (Carrie Underwood/Hillary Lindsey/Josh Kear). A strange kind of female empowerment was captured in “Miss Otis Regrets (She’s Unable to Lunch Today)” (Cole Porter) and a driving “If You Hadn’t But You Did” (Jule Styne/Adolph Green/Betty Comden). So much angst, but Wolff amazingly keeps the energy from going low with a winning personality, comedic quips and a natural ability for clever interpretation. It all turns out right in the end, as Wolff reveals she did find her dream man and has been in a 34-year marriage with him. Her encore, “This Is My Life” (“La Vita”) (Bruno Canfora/Antonio Amurri/Norman Newell) was an affirmation that life is good, no matter what.

A major asset of Prisoner of Love is director Peter Napolitano, who worked closely with Wolff to shape this sophisticated and very satisfying show. Another asset was a crew of A-list musicians who played a tight groove with masterful precision. Music director and pianist was Matthew Martin Ward, with bassist Boots Maleson and drummer Howie Gordon. Adding a violin, played by Rob Thomas, proved an excellent choice to add texture and an emotive quality to the music."

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Reviewed by Natalie Lifson
"Love is an emotion that makes you feel both powerful and vulnerable at once. It is for this very reason that nobody could
have performed Prisoner of Love, a cabaret show arranged by the late Barry Levitt and directed by Peter Napolitano at
Urban Stages Theater, better than Andrea Bell Wolff. A tiny woman who couldn’t have been taller than 5’2, she commanded
a presence as soon as she parted the curtains to step foot on the stage. Immediately, the packed audience stopped
their chatter and fell silent..

As the music, flawlessly performed by pianist Matthew Martin Ward, violinist Rob Thomas, percussionist Howie Gordon, and bassist Saadi Zain, picked up, Andrea’s voice echoed throughout the venue, just as powerful and vulnerable as the air she gave off upon entering the room. Andrea, who performed on Broadway and national tours for Hello, Dolly! , George M!, Li’l Abner, Grease, Little Shop of Horrors, an  Funny Girl , as well as a variety of other theatre credits, certainly lives up to her reputation as a versatile singer and actress.

Throughout the performance, Andrea made it abundantly clear that Prisoner of Love was more than just a cabaret show­ it was an autobiographical journey of her love life from her time as a 16 year old on the national tour of Hello, Dolly flitting from man to man to her marriage to her current supportive husband.

Between her songs, she shared stories and anecdotes with the charismatic charm people have come to expect from her, such as the time she went to a psychic about her romantic problems and the time she destroyed her cheating ex-­boyfriend’s belongings while he was on vacation with his ex­wife. The songs themselves were carefully chosen to fit into Andrea’s timeline of stories; by connecting the songs through theme, Wolff was able to explore a wide variety of genres in Prisoner of Love, ranging from traditional musical theater to bluesy to pop. Late music director Barry Levitt, who Urban Stage’s Winter Rhythms Festival is dedicated to, artfully rearranged songs such as James Brown’s This is a Man’s World and Rihanna’s Man Down into powerful musical theatre­style pieces that perfectly complemented Wolff’s voice.

The song choices particularly highlighted Wolff’s versatility, both in voice and in acting abilities. Andrea Bell Wolff demonstrated her ability to belt just as well as she can sing softly. Similarly, à la Kristen Chenoweth, she was able to appear just as sweet during some songs as she was able to appear harsh in others. Throughout the cabaret, she wore her emotions on her sleeve and completely immersed herself not only in the songs, but in the individual personas she developed for each song. Song and story topics ranged from young infatuation to vengeful murder, but Wolff managed to seamlessly shift from comedic acting to tragic and back again in an instant on multiple occasions. With her fantastic performance in Prisoner of Love , Wolff made abundantly clear that she is more than just a singer, more than just an actress, but a storyteller as well, and a fantastic one at that.

Apart from Andrea Bell Wolff’s overwhelming talent, Napolitano’s excellent directorial decisions were icing on the cake. Through very few additions to the stage, Napolitano managed to transform a blackbox theatre into a warm, intimate venue that perfectly reflected the performance. The colorful projectors on the back of the stage reflected the spirits of the individual songs and only served to immerse the audience in the emotional artistic atmosphere. Beyond that, the placement of the musicians around Wolff in a semi­circle, which made is seem as though she were surrounded on all sides save for a significant amount of blank space in the center, served to highlight her and make an already intimate venue feel even more intimate. Finally, Andrea’s physical presence, as directed by Napolitano, significantly contributed to the excellent performance. At no point did Andrea stay in one spot and simply sing. Rather, she paced the stage, used hand and bodily gestures to engage the audience, and made great use of the wooden stool that was provided to her. As a result of Napolitano’s efforts, I was visually engaged throughout the entire performance.

As the show drew to a close, Andrea teared up as she paid tribute to Barry Levitt, the great Broadway and off­-Broadway music director who Urban Stage’s entire Winter Rhythms Festival, of which Prisoner of Love was a part, was in tribute to after he passed at age 70 in September. But more importantly to Andrea, Barry was a dear friend and artistic collaborator who worked over a year with her to arrange Prisoner of Love and was otherwise endlessly supportive of both her career and her as an individual. “I am still a prisoner of love,” Andrea choked out as she spoke of Barry and his considerable influence on her life even after his passing, “but of a different nature.” She went on to explain that throughout the entire show, she imagined Barry sitting there in the corner encouraging her, telling her to “just be Andrea.” Prisoner of Love was a fitting show to perform in tribute to Barry Levitt not just because he poured so much energy and dedication to making it happen, but because it is clear how much love Andrea held for him during his life and continues to hold for him after his death. Prisoner of Love is more than just a cabaret, more than just the story of Wolff’s extensive love life, but an emotional journey that enraptured the audience and took every one of us for a ride."

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Other Role Reviews

Li’l Abner (Role: Mammy Yokum)

“Some of the perfs wonderfully embody Capp’s colorful creations, especially Andrea Bell-Wolff and John Shuman as Mammy and Pappy Yokum and the 6-foot-5 Glenn Lawrence as their son.”—Variety

“Mammy Yokum is played by Andrea Bell-Wolff as a tough old hen who rules her roost. From her high yellow boots to her peculiar trademark black bonnet, her costume helps, but Wolff’s characterization expresses the world of Dog patch better than anyone else on Gallo’s black-and-white cartoon settings.” —The Hartford Courant

Hello Dolly (Role: Minnie Fay)

"A notable comedy standout, Andrea Bell, upstaged everyone in spots and deserved an ovation of her own. As a wild and wound-up Minnie Fay, she hopped, skipped and danced through horseplay with Dick Leppig and Jean Richards squealing like Baby Snooks. Her movements resembled a shuddering alarm clock and her gestures and actions gave to the performance a touch of zaniness that verged on Dada.” —Los Angeles Times

“To single out one person from the company as fine in Dolly would be admitting that person deserved star billing. Andrea Bell– a minuscule atom bomb- as Minnie Fay, gave such a performance.” —The Toledo Times

"...The standout of the show however, is a size – the bundle of talent with the most atrocious New York accent and cement-mixer voice ever to have an audience in stitches, Andrea Bell, as the bird brained chattering millinery assistant of Miss Daniel, was the audience’s favorite and justly so.” —Trenton Times

“WE HAVE TO devote a special paragraph to Andrea Bell, who is physically no bigger than a moment, but a giant when it comes to talent. If there were ever a female Art Carney, she is it- and we mean that as a compliment.“ —New Orleans Times

George M! (Role: Josie Cohan)

“…and a small package with a big, brassy voice, Andrea Bell as his sister, Josie, who belted out her songs and came close to stealing the show from under everybody’s noses.” —The Leader, NY

“A bright light in the cast is Andrea Bell, in the role of Cohan’s sister Josie. Miss Bell, a tiny young lady with the tinny voice of a burlesque soubrette and the dancing know-how of an old pro, gave the role the same frisky appeal as when she appeared here a couple seasons back as the milliner’s helper in Carol Channing’s company of “Hello Dolly”. —The Rochester Herald