Raleigh, NC’s own Broadway star Lauren Kennedy showcased her impressive vocal and comic talents, and her remarkable versatility as a song stylist, on Dec. 14th and 15th in Lauren Kennedy: Here and Now, an invigorating CD release concert sponsored by Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy and performed with panache in the Kennedy Theater at the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts. Kennedy, who previously played Daisy Hilton in Side Show, understudied Betty Schaefer in Sunset Boulevard, portrayed Fantine in Les Misérables, and most recently earned critical acclaim as The Lady of the Lake in Monty Python’s Spamalot, is a vivacious vocalist with a big Broadway voice and a charismatic performer whether stroking a lyric until it purrs or putting just the right spin on a punch line.

Last Friday night, performing Lauren Kennedy: Here and Now before a most appreciative audience, Lauren Kennedy really put pizzazz into a piquant potpourri of songs by present and future Broadway composers and lyricists. The smart and sassy song list also benefited from the dynamic leadership and piano pyrotechnics of musical director Keith Dworkin. A last-minute substitute when a death in the family prevented Kennedy’s regular musical director/pianist, Fred Lassen, from performing in Raleigh, the recent Northwestern University graduate brought out the best in his star vocalist and her bodacious backup band, which included Baron Tymas (guitar), Sherry Lattin (violin), Steve Rose (woodwinds), Randy Landau (bass), and Abdala Saghir (drums) — plus backup singers Jordan Mericle, Mary Grace McGivney, Kelsey Foley, and Rachel Bahler.

The album and show both opened with a bravura up-tempo version of “Here I Am” by David Yazbeck from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, a heart-tugging solo on the wistful ballad “Unanswered Question (Will You Be Mine?)” by David Kirshenbaum, and a sweet-and-sour reminiscence of a fickle first love at age 11 in “My Lifelong Love” by Georgia Stitt.

Kennedy added a scorching solo on the torch song “Pretending That I’m Somebody Else” by Matthew Sklar and Chad Begeulin from The Rhythm Club, and an heartfelt request for a lover to slow down—to wait until she’s ready—on “Just Not Now” by Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham. Then backup vocalist Rachel Bahler of Performance Edge demonstrated a fine voice on “I Can Cook Too” from On the Town.

Lauren Kennedy ended her first set with a foot-trapping, knee-slapping two-song country section, which included “Through the Mountain” by Adam Guettel from Floyd Collins and roof-raising rendering of “Mr. Hopalong Heartbreak” by Jason Robert Brown from Urban Cowboy.

The all-too-short second set began with a wistful mother-daughter meditation, “You’ll Want Me to Shine” by Dan Lipton, then quickly scaled the heights of hilarity with some acid thoughts on the irresistibility — and ultimate futility — of wooing an “Apathetic Man” by Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich. Next came a nice-and-easy rendition of “Easy” by Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy from Waiting for the Moon, followed by backup singer Kelsey Foley’s sweet solo version of “I’ll Be Seeing You,” a classic 1938 love song by composer Sammy Fain and lyricist Irving Kahal.

Then Lauren Kennedy brought the house down with her saucy rendition of “My Simple Christmas Wish (Is to Be Rich, Famous, and Powerful),” Daniel Friedman’s song of unmitigated ego and ambition from the movie Trick. Next came Kennedy’s robust rendition of “Spread a Little Joy” by Andrew Lippa from the musical Betty Boop; and she ended Lauren Kennedy: Here and Now on a very high note, indeed, by really cutting loose with a bold and brassy version of “I Can Do Better Than That” by Jason Robert Brown from The Last Five Years.

Lauren Kennedy: http://www.laurenkennedy.com/ and http://www.myspace.com/laurenkennedyonline. “Here and Now”: http://www.psclassics.com/cd_kennedy2.html. Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy: http://www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org/.