Musical numbers: “House of Joy” (Bill Good, Vicki Sue Robinson, J. Carrano); “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (Cole Porter); “Lover, Come Back to Me” (Sigmund Romberg, Oscar Hammerstein II); “Black and White” (Earl Robinson); “All My Love” (V.S. Robinson, Good); “What a Piece of Work Is Man” (James Rado, Gerome Ragni, Galt McDermott); “Gethsemane” (Tim Rice, Andrew Lloyd Webber); “Move On” (V.S. Robinson, Good); “I’ll Be Around” (O’Jays); “Until It’s Time for You to Go” (Buffy St. Marie); “Shake Your Booty” (Casey, Finch); “More, More, More” (Neil Diamond); “Mighty Real” (Sylvester, Wirrick); “Turn the Beat Around” (Jackson, Jackson); “Percussion — ala Vicki”; “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” (Jimmy Cox); “After the Rain” (V.S. Robinson, Marci Suttin); “Nowhere” (Good, V.S. Robinson); “I’m Gonna Love You” (V.S Robinson, Doug Katsouros); “Jingle Medley”; “I Will” (Good); “Miracle” (Good); “House of Joy” (Good, V.S. Robinson-Carrano).
Seventies disco diva Vicki Sue Robinson displays a silky flexible voice with strength and range in her vest pocket musical bio, “Behind the Beat.” In an excessive quick-change parade of colorful boas and scarves, high-cupped collars, glittering robes and sequined accented capes, the singer relates industry growing pains, major influences, brief dazzling success and riding the comeback trail with confidence and crowd-pleasing assurance.
Early influence is credited to Miles, Sarah and Coltrane, but it is blues queen Dinah Washington the singer honors with a whispering kickoff to “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” followed by Sigmund Romberg’s “Lover, Come Back to Me.” Bass lines and cymbal crashes dominate here, and Robinson’s scatting and heavy breathing reveal the jazz influence but leave little regard for the lyrics of Cole Porter and Oscar Hammerstein.
Recalling the ’60s with an absentee alcoholic actor-father, tagging along with her activist folk singing mother, the singer confesses to growing her own grass while freaking out to the accompaniment of Cream, Hendrix and even the Monkees. The often stilted narrative serves for tentative tune intros and the influence of icons Laura Nyro, Buffy St. Marie and the O’Jays.
As a teenage Broadway showgirl, Robinson appeared as an extra in groundbreaking rock musicals “Hair” and “Jesus Christ, Superstar.” Recalling her growing pains provides the opportunity to bring her mature talents to “What a Piece of Work Is Man” and “Gethsemane” with fervently effective interpretations.
Second act finds the brief emergence of a chart-topping disco queen, with her lone 1976 hit “Turn the Beat Around,” but the singer spoofs her own Billboard winning hit. Accompanied by cartooned backup singers, she revs up the audience with hand-clapping participation. The tune brought the singer a Grammy nomination and wide visibility during the disco era.
Dive in performing career found the singer chirping voiceovers for commercials from Bell Atlantic’s “we’re all connected” to Wrigley’s “double your flavor” and “the best part of waking up is Folger in your cup!” Perched atop the piano, Robinson effectively accents her career dip with a fervent and bluesy reading of the 75-year-old Bessie Smith trademark lament, “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.”
Robinson as co-writer, winds up with her own urgent and breathy blend of pain and determination with “Nowhere,” “After the Rain,” “House of Joy” and a torchy “I’m Gonna Love You,” skillfully illustrating that there is life after disco.