By Don Heckman
Studio City, CA. It was a return visit to Vitello’s Wednesday night for And They She Wrote. The cast was slightly different from the line-up that brought the same show to Vitello’s in June. But the selections were largely the same classics from the Great American songbook, once again illuminating how many of those classics were written, or co-written, by female composers and lyricists.
The three-performer show, conceived by singer/actor/television star Peter Marshall, featured the vocal trio of Marshall, Carol Welsman and Denise Donatelli (replacing Calabria Foti from the original cast), backed by pianist John Rodby and bassist Dave Robaire.
The show’s premise – clearly inferred in the title – was explored via informative nuggets about such major female songwriters as Dorothy Fields, Betty Comden, Carolyn Leigh, Peggy Lee, Marilyn Bergman, Ann Ronnell, Ruth Lowe and others. And there probably wasn’t a single person in the full house crowd who didn’t, at some point, gasp in surprise when the female writers or co-writers of songs such as “Willow Weep For Me,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, “Don’t Blame Me” and dozens of others, were identified.
Off the cuff whimsical remarks from Marshall, with sharp responses from Welsman and Donatelli, added spontaneous humor to the evening, often enhanced by the addition of songs with their own humorous aspects – “Diga, Diga Doo,” “I’m Hip” and “I’m Shadowing You.”
Aside from its genuinely informative aspects, the real essence of this engaging musical evening was the blending of memorable songs with first rate vocal performances ranging from solos and duets to trios.
Marshall, whose checkered career has ranged from a long run on network television to Broadway musicals, sang with an easygoing relaxed style, finding the intriguing inner qualities of songs such as “Young At Heart,” ‘I’m Drinking Again” and winding up with the Frank Sinatra theme song, “Put Your Dreams Away (For Another Day).”
Among the several ensemble songs, the highlights included the ladies singing “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” Donatelli and Marshall exchanging colorful insults on “A Fine Romance,” and all three singers joining in on “Pick Yourself Up.”
Appropriately, however, it was Welsman and Donatelli, jazz singers gifted with extraordinary musicality, who provided some of the evening’s most gripping moments.
There were far too many to mention, but among the many highlights: Donatelli’s transformation of “Willow Weep For Me” into an embracing love song, and her touching reading of “Some Other Time” ; Welsman’s exquisite interpretation, enhanced by her piano playing, of “La Vie En Rose,” and her equally memorable “The Way You Look tonight.”
So, once again And Then She Wrote proved to be an entertaining, imaginative overview of an unusual aspect of American song, transformed into living color by a trio of fine vocal artists.
New Yorkers will have an opportunity to see and hear “And Then She Wrote” at the Metropolitan Room on January 11 – 14.
Photos by Bob Barry.