By Joshua Melendez
“With Warmest Regards” is a common valediction for letters to family or friends. The musical of that title, written and performed by Nashville native Lori Brown Mirabal, follows her life and career as an international opera singer, film and television actress, and musical theater performer. Ms. Mirabal’s journey was never easy, and wasn’t always planned out. Through a witty and comical narrative, accompanied by operatic singing, Ms. Mirabal conveys the importance of identity, persistence, and ambition.
A Fresnel lantern casts a sherbet orange hue onto the stage. In the center, there stand a stool and a hat rack. A projector is located stage left, and a piano on the right. Jimmy Horan, the piano accompanist, strikes the keys and opens the show with an upbeat tempo. Ms. Mirabal enters, dressed lavishly, gracing the stage holding shopping bags. What’s most noticeable, however, is not what she is wearing or carrying, but rather the flair of her voice and her palpable energy. “Singing is my favorite thing to do,” she tells us.
Ms. Mirabal introduces us to the influences that inspired her to become an opera singer. Her father was a minister who loved music, and she had recurring dreams of Beethoven and listened to Aretha Franklin from a young age. “Sundays were for gospel” and fortunately enough, her church background and admiration for soul music gave her edge and style. At the age of ten, Ms. Mirabal was introduced to opera, and her fusion of opera and soul would eventually help her win a beauty pageant. Recognizing her own talent, Ms. Mirabal gathered the courage to sharpen her skills by taking voice lessons. However, her loved ones expressed doubt. It was unfathomable to them that an African American girl from Nashville, Tennessee could aspire to become an opera singer. This did not stop the ambitious young Ms. Mirabal, who was learning not only how to combat fear and doubt, but also her identity as an African American woman. Ms. Mirabal learned to trust herself and her ability. She eventually had the opportunity to work with notable figures like Cab Calloway, and to perform internationally. She joined the many other notable and successful African American opera singers like Grace Bumbry and Jessye Norman.
“With Warmest Regards” uses songs and arias to spotlight specific moments. For instance, right after Ms. Mirabal becomes comfortable enough in her career, she treats the audience to “Habanera” from “Carmen.” The aria, Ms. Mirabel says, refers to a rare bird that cannot be tamed. Her love of singing and opera could likewise never easily be stripped from her. Her vocal style adds soul to the aria. Every piece she performed added a new dimension to her story.
The show is entertaining in every possible way, from Ms. Mirabal’s singing, her and Mr. Horan’s witty one‑liners, the projection design, and her interaction with the crowd. Her gestures to the audience should not be overlooked, as they pulled us into Ms. Mirabal’s world, her story. The show becomes much more intimate, and really plays out as a live memoir. “With Warmest Regards” is more than just a story of rags to riches. Ms. Mirabal found her soulful voice by overcoming great obstacles. She transformed from a naive young girl into a poised, confident, successful woman who eventually started a family. She graciously embodies and embraces the vulnerable side of a successful woman with a wonderful sense of humor.
In the last scene of “With Warmest Regards,” Ms. Mirabal wraps up the show by leaving us with one last thought, and that is hope. She dedicates her last song to “the dreamers,” just like she was at one time. She reminds us of the close friends she had lost, the obstacles she overcame, and the daughter to whom she passed on her experiences. “When all the world is a hopeless jungle,” as Ms. Mirabal put it, she persevered.
“With Warmest Regards”
Written and performed by Lori Brown Mirabal
Directed by Ruthanna Graves McQueen
October 1 at 7:30pm, and November 17 at 2pm
Photo by Devon Cass
2019 United Solo Theater Festival
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
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JOSHUA MELENDEZ is a writer and painter from the Bronx, New York. He graduated from Brooklyn College with a bachelors in English. Melendez has published work in his alma mater’s literary magazines, The Junction and Stuck In The Library. He is also a contributing writer for Art N Fly, a boutique art supply company. In his spare time, Melendez does art commissions.