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Cabaret Review (LA): Courage To Dream by Nita Whitaker at Sterling’s Upstairs at Vitello’s

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Nita Whitaker is a consummate pro. Trained in gospel, opera, and pop, her voice is one versatile instrument. She is also gorgeous, a former Miss Louisiana (after years of trying until they got over themselves and chose a black woman). From the South she traveled to Los Angeles where she became the female Grand Champion on TV’s original Star Search. One of her earliest mentors was the legendary David Foster who provided her with a chance to appear with countless celebrities including Barbra Streisand, Faith Hill, Celine Dion, Richard Marx, Stevie Wonder, and Yolanda Evans. She was the guest performer at the Freedom Awards honoring Oprah Winfrey, Ruby Dee. and Paul Rusesabagnia, sang duets with Andrea Bocelli on his 2006 Winter Tour, and sang with Josh Grobin. She recently toured with jazz trumpeter Chris Botti. All this points to her immense talent and versatility.

Ms. Whitaker gave a magnificent cabaret performance at Sterling’s Upstairs at Vitello’s on Jan 16th. So often the performers who appear her are just starting in their careers so it is a nice change of pace to see a full-blown star performer. She called her concert The Courage to Dream, which also happens to be the title song on one of her recent CDs, Life Stories. The concert was as varied as her talent. She began with a rousing rendition of “Being Alive” followed by a swinging “Put Your Records On.” She performed several beautiful ballads including Jason Robert Brown’s “Stars and The Moon,” and that title track, which is her own composition. She also sang another original song from her album, “Trying To Get To You.”

Nita Whitaker is also a very funny lady. Having been in numerous beauty contests in her youth, she gave us a hysterical segment dedicated to pageant contestants and some very funny talent contests she had witnessed. Later in the set she brought her two lovely daughters onstage, Elyse and Skye, and they sang together “Look,” demonstrating that talent runs in the whole family. The evening was meant to be inspirational so she included “I’m Here” from The Color Purple (although it is hard to believe anyone would call her ugly as the lyrics suggest), and even a thrilling rendition of “Climb Every Mountain.”

Nita Whitaker appeared at Sterling’s Upstairs at Vitello’s on Jan 16th accompanied by her marvelous accompanist and musical director of many years, Nelson Kole. Walter Rodriguez played a box with his hands but was a whole tympani section in his own right.

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