She wears a window on her heart, ellen cherry does. And if you’re fortunate enough to attend the limited engagement performance of Portraits in Song you’ll get to glimpse through this portal into a vast emotional galaxy of complex understanding when it comes to storytelling and setting flight to the voice of Gynaika. Making its Baltimore debut as a part of the She Speaks Second Series offered at The Strand, solo performer and creator ellen cherry, under the direction of Marc Horwitz, delivers an intimate evening of musical narrative. Telling ten unique tales of ten terribly fascinating women, ellen cherry pairs these songs with portraits fabricated by Liz Downing. Each one is uniquely its own discovery and journey while sharing the commonality of femininity, tying to the others to create one heartfelt and soul-touching odyssey that tethers the artist to the women of whom she sings.
The scene is simple, a living room if you will, though even simpler, a couch with a coffee table, keyboard, and two guitars. Set and Lighting Designer Amy Rhodes creates this intimate nest with a familiarity and inviting level of comfort to it. This enable the audience to feel at home, if you will, delivering their undivided attention to the musical storytelling happening around them. Director Marc Horwitz guides ellen cherry through each song as if it were a movement, conducted by Rhodes’ lighting. A portrait appears on the wall behind the couch, a story is told, the song begins. The lighting fades as does the portrait into a brief blackness as the song comes to a conclusion and immediately the next portrait is revealed. This delicate dance, crafted in harmony by ellen cherry, Horwitz, and Rhodes creates fluidity within the piece that is enticing.
Each song is a story. Every song has a personal connection for ellen cherry. Sweeping through her personal history as well as that of the women featured in the performance— from more iconic women like Madonna and Mother Mary to lesser known ones like the wife of a fallen Civil War General— ellen cherry takes her musical and narrative alchemical skills and puts them to task, creating a thing of beauty and wonder. A brilliant lyricist, imbuing each of the songs with carefully selected words to fully encapsulate not only the voice but the unspoken and unexpressed emotions of these women, ellen cherry delivers lyrics that are perfection. Her ability to spin a yarn feels wholly natural, free of artifice and hype yet still possessing the required theatricality to maintain her audiences’ interests.
With a voice that would soothe the mind on a dreary drizzling mid-Monday afternoon, ellen cherry showcases a wide variety of emotional empathy when singing these songs. Looping a personal chord from her own canon into the narrative allows her to more deeply connect to the words she’s singing and the melodies she’s playing, making for a mesmerizing piece of performance. Perfecting the art of balance in her musical numbers, ellen cherry tempers somber moments with serenity, ponderous moments with pleasure, and breathes a unique life into each verse, bridge, and chorus.
A remarkable experience— with an audio recording of the songs featured in the performance for sale in the lobby— ellen cherry is a vibrant spirit, delivering an empowering evening of female theatre in this one-woman show. Perfectly timed for Women’s History Month, this performance appearing in the She Speaks Series will also feature lobby guests, varying from performance to performance, including Planned Parenthood, Women’s Housing Coalition, and Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. This is the perfect opportunity to support women’s voices and makes for an incredible evening of live performance in Hamilton.
Running Time: Approximately 65 minutes with no intermission
Portraits in Song plays through March 5, 2017 as a part of The Strand Theater Company’s Second Series: She Speaks at 5426 Harford Road in the Hamilton neighborhood of Baltimore, MD. For tickets call the box office at (443-871-1917 or purchase them online.
To learn more about ellen cherry, visit her page here.
To learn more about Liz Downing, visit her page here.