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Broadway veterans will perform cabaret-style show

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FARMINGTON — When Anne Runolfsson and her daughter Tess Adams take the stage this weekend at the Farmington Civic Center for a production of "Heroine's Song," it will be only the third time they have performed their cabaret-style show since it premiered last January in Hawaii.

Even so, Runolfsson says she and Adams have refined the show over the past 12 months, tweaking some elements and becoming more comfortable with its pace.

"I think we had this great benefit to having time to step back last summer during (Adams' college) break and take a fresh look at it," Runolfsson said Jan. 13 during a telephone interview as she and her daughter drove through Arizona after a performance with the Phoenix Symphony. "I think we can do this better. We're very pleased with where we're at now, and we've taken some huge steps forward in the last year. … I think we're close, if not there."

That's part of the fun of mounting this kind of production, she said, explaining that its smaller nature makes it easier for the show to evolve and find its footing.

"You're not dealing with a full Broadway orchestra and elaborate costumes," she said. "That's another reason I love the fluid nature of this medium as a performer."

"Heroine's Song" features songs from a variety of theater's best-know musicals, including tunes from "The Greatest Showman," "Phantom of the Opera," "Waitress," "Sister Act," "Les Miserables" and "Mean Girls." As the production's title implies, each of the songs was chosen for the way it reflects a heroic female character.

Runolfsson said she was looking for an opportunity to perform with her daughter when she was invited to put together a show last year at The Zonta Club of Kaua'i in Hawaii to celebrate the empowerment of women. Runolfsson and Adams already had made a splash by performing in separate Broadway shows at the same time — Adams in "Les Miserables" and Runolfsson in "Phantom" — but their chances to occupy the same stage simultaneously had been limited.

The development of "Heroine's Song" offered them that opportunity, but it also gave them the chance to craft a production of their own. The mother-and-daughter team chose to augment the songs with dialogue that provided them with a forum for relating some of their own experiences as performers.

"It not only celebrates these women through the Broadway characters, but also encourages women to be the heroine of their own story," Runolfsson said.

The production features a 15-member local choir everywhere it is performed, an arrangement that promotes a greater connection between the performers and the community. Runolfsson said she and Adams likely will have five to six hours of rehearsal with the group in Farmington before the curtain goes up on the show this weekend, with the choir performing on three tunes.

"We want them to feel good," Runolfsson said. "Part of the experience for us is to meet people and learn a little bit about where we're visiting."

The chorus will join Runolfsson and Adams on a performance of "Raise Your Voice" from "Sister Act."

"I saw it on Broadway, and I was so lifted by it," Runolfsson said, explaining why she chose it for the show. "It's a cute song, but it's also got a great rock-pop feel to it."

That element was especially important to Runolfsson and Adams as they sorted through material for the show.

"You try to balance those things because there are some moments that are a little heavier," she said, noting the serious theme behind the production. "We want to keep it entertaining. It's our job to entertain (the audience), but at the same time, you want them to leave feeling like they've had a great evening."

Runolfsson said the experience of working with her daughter on the show has allowed her to watch Adams grow as both a performer and a person.

"I trust her," she said. "I've always trusted her, but when it comes to trusting her feedback, that's been different."

The two spent some time in Los Angeles recently analyzing recordings of the show. Runolfsson said Adams had some remarkable insights into how they could improve their performance.

"I thought, 'Wow, the maturity at age 20,'" Runolfsson said. "To have made this leap in maturity from 16 to now, all while she's studying in London. … Her input is so valuable. I'm very, very impressed with my daughter."

Adams essentially grew up backstage while her mother was performing on Broadway, so she is no stranger to the demands of a life onstage. But she said getting to work directly with Runolfsson and closely observe her professionalism and commitment to her craft has been another experience altogether.

"I already knew she was tremendously talented, but getting to collaborate on the arrangements with her and work out a set list of cohesive material, I've learned she's incredibly shrewd and has an incredible musical ear for what songs hold up well together," she said.

Performing with her mother in "Heroine's Song" has been a chance for the two to connect with each other in a way that goes beyond words, Adams said.

"It's really unique to have that common passion and have the ability to do that and share it with others," she said.

"Heroine's Song" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St. Tickets are $20 and $28. Call 505-599-1148.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610, or via email at measterling@daily-times.com.

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