Live Jazz: Sue Raney at Vitello’s

December 31, 2012

By Don Heckman

Studio City, CA.  Sue Raney was at it again last night at Vitello’s, offering a pre-New Year’s Eve seminar in jazz singing.  And, yes, I know the word “seminar” has an academic inference that doesn’t really capture the full quality of her performance.  But there was no denying the effectiveness of Raney’s demonstrations of how to bring a far-ranging variety of songs fully to life.

Singing with the prime accompaniment of pianist Tom Ranier’s trio, with bassist Trey Henry and drummer Ray Brinker, she offered a program overflowing with classic songbook items, seasoned with a few rarely heard songs.  Over the course of her twenty or so selections, she chose songs rich with emotions, both romantic and otherwise, that favored her stylistic blend of expressive feelings and lyrical phrasing.

Sue Raney

Sue Raney

There were many musical highpoints, beginning with the Ranier trio playing a briskly swinging “If I Were A Bell,” before Raney embarked on her evening’s fascinating musical journey.  Along the way, she spent time with one classic after another: “Here’s To Life,” “Some Other Time,” “I’ll Be Seeing You” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” (both done in unexpectedly rhythmic renderings), “It Could Happen To You” and, appropriately, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”

Add to that the less often heard but no less appealing “Emily,” “Aren’t You Glad You’re You,” “Time Was” and “Don’t Look Back.”

Occasionally, Raney combined pairs of songs with similar subjects into medleys.  The pairing worked well with “Once Upon A Summertime” and “The Summer Knows,” in part because of Michel Legrand’s atmospheric melodies.   Another pairing – “When the World Was Young” and “Young and Foolish” – was a less successful blend of songs with very different lyrical and musical orientations.

There were more, but regardless of what Raney sang, it resonated with the qualities that have made her a classy performer since her first album When Your Lover Has Gone (produced by Nelson Riddle) was released in 1958: a warm, richly-timbred voice soaring freely over a good three or four octaves; articulate phrasing; communicative, lyrical story-telling; and a brisk sense of swing.

Not bad for a singer who turned 72 in June.  But Raney is still in prime creative form, with many songs and much music still to go.  Don’t miss her next appearance.

Photo by Faith Frenz.

 To read an iRoM review of a previous Sue Raney performance click HERE.


Short Takes: Of My Favorites in Twenty-Twelve

December 29, 2012

By Brian Arsenault

I really don’t feel comfortable calling a column like this “The Best of 2012.”  It’s not that I’m not opinionated enough to do so, it’s that integrity would require me to have listened to a whole lot more during the year.  Wouldn’t one have to hear just about everything to do an honest “Best of 2012”?  Oh well, let others worry about that.

If  I absolutely had to select an album of the year it would be Dreams of the San Joaquin (Blix Street).  Maia Sharp combines with her parents, Randy Sharp and Sharon Bays, and Johnny Cash songwriter Jack Wesley Routh to give us a piece of America and thus a better sense of all of America.  It’s a Steinbeck novel, an early Capra movie, a train whistle in the night.

Here are my other favorites from the year drawing to a close:

 Jazz

- Halie Loren’s Heart First (Justin Time). How can this singer of grace and style not be near the top of everyone’s list? Great phrasing, emotions that resonate not nauseate, humor, wit. I truly don’t think there’s anyone better.

ave CD- Cheryl Bentyne’s Let’s Misbehave: The Cole Porter Songbook (Summit Records). This is a master class in jazz singing, in Cole Porter, in the American songbook. Cheryl Bentyne can make magic with Manhattan Transfer and on her own. Special magic here.

- Graham Dechter’s Takin’ It There (Capri). Jazz electric guitar virtuoso. You’ve heard that before but this guy will take you there. And beyond. You feel the music imbedded so deep in the DNA.  In this case, by nature and nurture.

- Jesse Cook’s The Blue Guitar Sessions (Entertainment One Music). I know, two guitarists. But this is something completely different.  Softly stated, yes, but more accurately, lyrically stated. A world of its own inviting you to enter.

- Nik Bartsch’s Ronin (ECM).  In medieval Japan, Ronin were Samurai without masters.  That works here.  Smoothly flowing jazz funks to a frenetic pace. To quiet piano bars. There are spaces, gaps, silences. And wondrous sound.

 Non-Jazz

- Rickie Lee JonesThe Devil You Know (Concord Records).  A long time. A lot of pain. A lot of courage. A lot of living. Not covers but reinterpretations that in several cases are more articulate, more profound, more evocative than the originals.

- All Purpose Blues Band’s Cornbread and Cadillacs (Catbone Music) because the traditions of Otis Redding, Sam Cook, all the Delta bluesmen, funk, soul, Neville Brothers, and Bourbon Street must continue to be there to renew and enrich our souls.

s CD- Rolling Stones’ reissue of Some Girls Live in Texas 1978. (Eagle Rock Entertainment) Mick and the boys at the height of their powers. If you’re not sure you are comfortable with today’s geezers in concert, you will be reassured by this remarkable live album.

- Various artists, hell, many artists, on Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan.. This album of Bob Dylan songs was done for Amnesty International, and such collaborative efforts seldom get a lot of recognition. Well, it’s not actually a full blown work of art, critics sniff dismissively. But it you miss this, you miss some magnificent interpretations of Dylan’s work. Disc 2 alone is worth the price of admission.

- Mary Black’s Song from the Steeples (Blix Street) both in its own right and as a representative of a great year of music from Irish female singers.  Not sure what’s going on but it seems like a virtual renaissance of Irish singers. Of course, they’re always there, aren’t they. We just aren’t always listening.

- Martha’s Trouble’s A Little Heart Like You (Aisling).  There are new babies in our family, both arrived and on the way.  If there are newcomers in yours, this album of artfully done lullabies will please both babe and parents. Not sing-songy sweet to send you screaming from the room on a third play, but genuinely good music.

 DVD

- Ike & Tina On the Road 1971-72 (MVD Visual). Low quality video/audio in places can’t diminish the powerful birth of real superstar Tina Turner and innovator Ike Turner. A remarkable portrait of musical performing artists.

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


Live Jazz: Jane Monheit at Catalina Bar & Grill

December 28, 2012

By Don Heckman

Jane Monheit is at Catalina Bar & Grill this week, following up on last year’s stellar performance at the venue.  Once again, she’ll be there for the rest of the week, through New Year’s Eve on Monday night.  And her opening night appearance on Wednesday was a superb display of the warm, engaging style that has become more and more expressive over the 12 years since the release of her first album, Never Never Land.

When I reviewed that initial recording in the Los Angeles Times, I wrote “OK, the name isn’t familiar, but here’s a flat-out guarantee that it will be within the year.”  As it has in fact become, and with good cause.  And now, at 35, Monheit brings a mature creative perspective to the rich musicality that has always been an essential characteristic of her vocal art.

Jane Monheit

Backed by the warm, embracing support of her regular band — Michael Kanan, piano, Neal Miner, bass, and her husband, Rick Montalbano, drums – she opened her six night run at Catalina’s with a program overflowing with a range of songs best suited for her interpretive magic.

She began with the Gershwin’s “Soon,” before swinging into Cole Porter’s “In the Still of the Night.”  The latter tune was transformed into a showcase for Monheit’s improvisational imagination, especially during the passages in which she sang wordless melodic paraphrases.

Other fascinating versions of familiar material followed: “Born to Be Blue,”  “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” (appropriate, given the date), “Tea For Two,” “Taking A Chance On Love,” “Nobody Else But Me” and “Cheek To Cheek.”

Among the offbeat choices in her program – a jaunty version of “Little Man You”ve Had A Busy Day” and “I Won’t Dance” (missing only the presence of Michael Buble from their duet version), and a surprisingly dark interpretation of the Bergman’s “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”  And, as she did a year ago, a richly felt “Over the Rainbow,” done – like her other songs – with the intimacy of a born musical story-teller.

As I mentioned earlier, Monheit continues at Catalina’s through Monday night and New Year’s Eve.  That adds up to four more opportunities to hear this gifted artist in action.  And great singers should be heard at every opportunity.  Add Jane Monheit to that stellar list and enjoy the New Year’s revelry in her delightful company.

Photo by Faith Frenz.


Picks of the Week: Dec. 26 – 31.

December 26, 2012

By the iRoM Staff

With only a few short days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and with numerous clubs (especially in Europe) closed for the holiday week, we’ve decided to concentrate this week’s Picks on the celebratory musical pleasures of bringing in 2013.

NEW YEAR’S EVE (DEC. 31)

Los Angeles

Jane Monheit

Jane Monheit

- Dec. 26 – 31. (Wed. – Mon.) Jane Monheit.  Monheit’s glorious voice and briskly swinging style make a welcome return holiday visit to the club that perfectly showcases her many talents.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- Dec. 31. (Mon.) Frank Stallone.  Grammy and Golden Globe nominated actor/singer Stallone is an entertaining performer, with material reaching from standards to his own originals.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Dec. 31. (Mon.)  Idina Menzel.  Tony Award-winning singer/actress Menzel, the star of Broadway’s Wicked, was also in the original production of Rent.  Disney Hall.    (323) 850-2000.

- Dec. 31. (Mon.) Don Randi and Quest.   Keyboardist Randi – who also owns the Baked Potato – has played on hundreds of recording sessions and numerous hit recordings.  Here he celebrates the holiday with his own band, in  his own venue, with many special guests.  The Baked Potato.    (818) 980-1615.

Anna Mjoll

Anna Mjoll

- Dec. 31. (Mon.) Anna Mjoll.  Iceland’s gift to jazz continues to affirm her vocal jazz authenticity with every performance.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

- Dec. 31. (Mon.)  Vardan Ovsepian Chamber Ensemble with special guest David Binney. Armenia-born pianist Ovsepian brings a view to jazz that is colorfully enhanced by his classical and Eastern European background.  Blue Whale.   (213) 620-0908.

San Francisco

- Dec. 28 – 31. (Fri. – Mon.)  Pete Escovedo & Sons Latin Jazz Orchestra. Expect musical fireworks and an exciting transition to 2013 while enjoying the irresistible rhythms of the Escovedo family.  Yoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 238-9200.

- Dec. 28 – 31. (Fri. – Mon.)  Maceo Parker’s Funky New Year’s Party.  James Brown and the Funkadelics wouldn’t have been quite the same without the funk-driven saxophone of Parker.  He’s doing it on his own now, but he’s no less soulful than he was four decades ago.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.    (415) 655-5600.

Chicago

Roy Hargrove

Roy Hargrove

- Dec. 26 – 31. (Wed. – Mon.)  The Roy Hargrove Quintet. Trumpeter Hargrove continues to display his versatility in a busy touring schedule featuring his various groups.  This time it’s his always exciting quintet.  Jazz Showcaset  (312) 360-0234.

New York

- Dec. 26 – 31.  Wed. – Mon.) (Continuing through Sun. Jan. 6.)  Chris Botti. Trumpeter Botti – whose dedicated following has made him one of the world’s most popular jazz artists – continues his annual long holiday run at the Blue Note.  Don’t miss the chance to hear him up close and personal.   Click HERE.To read iRoM’s review of Chris’s New Year’s Eve performance at the Blue Note in 2012    The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

- Dec. 31.  (Mon.)  The Mingus Big Band.  What better way to celebrate the newly arriving year than with the ever-appealing music of Charles Mingus, performed accurately by the ensemble that continues to keep his classic jazz catalog alive.  Jazz Standard.   (212) 576-2232.

Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis

- Dec. 31.  (Mon.)  Wynton Marsalis Meets Vince Giordano.  Trumpeter Marsalis honors one of his great influences with The Louis Armstrong Continuum – Music of the Hot Fives and the Hot Sevens.   Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.    (212) 258-9800.

Washington D.C.

– (Dec. 27 – 31).  Thurs. – Mon.)  Monty Alexander.  Jamaican-born pianist Alexander brings it all together – convincing bebop, a solid blues foundation and gently floating Caribbean rhythms.  Blues Alley.    (202) 337-4141.


A Christmas Jazz Tale

December 24, 2012

A Christmas Jazz Tale

by Don Heckman

‘Twas the night before Christmas and the gig was running late;
No sugar plums, no candy canes, just another overtime club date,
Holidays are work days in a jazz musician’s life,
A chance to make some extra bucks to take home to the wife.

Chanukah’s over, Kwaanza starts tomorrow,
The Ramadan fast just ended,  and I’ll forget the others to my sorrow.
If you want to make a living in the music world these days,
You’d better learn to celebrate in many different ways.

The clock slowly turned toward the midnight hour,
As we played a jazzed up version of the “Waltz of the Flowers.”
We labored on, “White Christmas,” “Frosty” and “Silent Night”;
And I wondered if we’d still be jamming “My Favorite Things” at first light.

But we finally got lucky, as the leader kicked off the last medley.
The singer mauled “The Christmas Song,” a version Mel would have found deadly,
We did the “Jingle Bell Mambo” and the “Drummer Boy Bossa Nova,”
And wrapped it all up, with a rock “Hallelujah” coda.

I packed my horn, gave the guys my best wishes and headed into the night.
The streets were dark and quiet, the stores closed up tight.
Not that it would have mattered, since the gig barely paid the rent,
And whatever I could afford for presents had already been spent.

I walked through the falling snow, filled with memories of Christmas past,
Of marching bands and Christmas parades, of lighted trees and times too good to last.
And I wondered if my kids, when adulthood beckons,
Would remember their holidays with the same sweet affection.

My footsteps led me home to a house warm and cozy,
Where my wife and my children lay innocently dozing.
So I sat for a while in the late night still,
Watching the snow fall gently on the hill.

When I suddenly heard a familiar sound in the distance,
A rhythm section swinging with hard driving persistence.
But this one was strange, something I’d never heard before,
A brisk and spirited clatter I can only describe as hoof beats galore.

Then a new sound, one both familiar yet odd,
Called out through the snowflakes, like a leader commanding a squad.
“On Trane! On Dizzy! On Monk! On Duke!
On Sonny! On Bird! On Miles! On Klook!”

The next thing I heard was just as amazing,
A set of riffs, hard-swinging and blazing,
Played on an instrument that was new to me,
The sting of a trumpet, the silk of a sax, the tone of a bone, all blended with glee.

I ran to the window to see what was coming,
And was met with a sight incredibly stunning,
What looked like a bright red ’57 Chevy,
Pulled through the sky by eight reindeer in a bevy.

They landed in my yard and the driver leaped out;
Grabbing a pack from the back he quickly turned about.
I blinked my eyes at this strange apparition,
His cheeks like Dizzy, his smile like Pops, as natty as Miles, a man on a mission.

“Call me Father Jazz,” he said as he came through the door, “musicians are my specialty.
I’ll even make a stop tonight with a little something for Kenny G.”
Then, opening his pack, he lightly danced to our tree,
Placing presents beneath it, ever so gently.

“There’s a drum set for Alex,” he said, “that kid has great time.
And a guitar for Allegra, ’cause the songs she writes are so fine.
And the books and the wristwatch you wanted for your wife,
That you couldn’t afford, living a jazz musician’s life.”

This is way too weird, I thought, it must be a dream;
Something like this is too good to be what it seems.
“Oh, it’s the real deal,” said Father Jazz, with a riff-like snap of his fingers.
“You’re on my list of serious jazz swingers.”

Moving to the doorway he turned back for a final review:
“And if you’re wondering why no box has been left for you,
It’s because your present has already been given.
You know what it is? It’s the spirit that makes your imagination so driven.”

“Musicians like you know that the gift of music is the gift of love.
It’s a gift that can only have come from above.
And those non-jazz Beatles had it right, for all our sakes,
When they said, ‘The love you take is equal to the love you make’.”

He bounded lightly through the snow to his flying red Chevy,
Blew a celestial riff on his amazing horn — so heavy!
And urged his team forward with a rallying command,
“On Dizzy! On Bird! On Miles! On Trane!”

As his eager steeds rose into the winter sky,
Father Jazz called out one last stirring cry.
Looking down with a radiant smile and a farewell wave:
“Stay cool, Bro’ and keep the music playing.”


Live Jazz: the Bob Sheppard/Otmaro Ruiz Quartet at Vitello’s

December 24, 2012

By Don Heckman

Studio City, CA.  On any given night in Los Angeles, world class jazz can be found in venues stretching from Orange County to Ventura County, with many stops in between.  And Saturday night was no exception, when the prime quartet of saxophonist Bob Sheppard and pianist Otmaro Ruiz (with bassist John Belzaguy and drummer Jimmy Branly) performed a stirring program at Vitello’s in Studio City.

The selections were varied – Horace Silver’s “Barbara” and Bernie Miller’s “Bernie’s Tune” among them, in addition to originals from both Sheppard and Ruiz.

But the highlights of the evening virtually all traced to the jam session-like improvising, allowing each of the players to stretch out in completely spontaneous fashion.  Sheppard was, as always, articulate, expressive and imaginative, on both tenor and soprano saxophones.  Ruiz’s eclectic style added Latin touches to his solos, occasionally tossing in a rousing montuno in contrast to his authentically boppish single note lines.

Otmaro Ruiz, John Belzaguy, Bob Sheppard, Jimmy Branley

Otmaro Ruiz, John Belzaguy, Bob Sheppard, Jimmy Branley

Give credit, as well, to the rhythm team of Belzaguy and Branley, the engine that kept the band in high gear for most of the set.

What was missing, however, was very little reference to the music promised in the advertising for the evening: “Celebrate the Season! – Latin Night – Feliz Navidad.”  Despite the generally high quality of the playing, there was little in the program specifically oriented to the holiday.  And, with the presence of Venezuelans Ruiz and Belzaguy and Cuban Branly, one might have hoped for something more in the way of Latin jazz excitement.

Also missing was the unannounced but rumored sitting-in presence of some of L.A.’s fine jazz singers.  Several were in the audience, but failed to take the stage.

That said, it was nonetheless an evening of the sort of world class jazz I mentioned above.  And, heard in action, regardless of their selection of material, the Sheppard/Belzaguy quartet’s playing was a potent reminder of the sort of jazz that’s available almost every night in the Southland.


Live Music: Judy Collins at the Valley Performing Arts Center

December 23, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles, CA. Judy Collins was back in town Friday night for her second major Southland appearance in less than a year.   This time, she was performing at CSUN’s beautiful almost-new Valley Performing Arts Center.

Once again, her performance was a virtual spoken memoir with songs.  Collins’ musical and personal history has taken her through some of the most fascinating eras and compelling personalities in the history of 20th century music.  And the full house crowd signaled their approval of her many songs and tales with repeated, enthusiastic applause.

Garbed in a svelte, white silk gown for her opening set, her pure white hair flowing freely, she accompanied herself on 12-string guitar along with the piano backing of her music director, Russell Walden.  In the second half, she emerged wearing a black tights outfit and headed straight to the piano, accompanying herself for the balance of the show.

J

Her manner, her appearance and the selection of material underscored the stylistic diversity of Collins’ art, as both an interpreter and a songwriter. At 73, her voice is still a warmly expressive instrument, fully capable of roaming convincingly through a range of fascinating musical byways.

She sang John Denver songs – “Rocky Mountain High” and “Country Roads” among them – tapping easily into their country/folk roots.

From there she moved into more eclectic territory: Jacques Brel’s “Sons Of,” Stephen Sondheim’s “Send In The Clowns,” Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning” and Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” and – surprisingly – “Over the Rainbow.”

Between songs, Collins was an engaging raconteur.  She described a night in the ‘60s, when she heard Bob Dylan writing “Mr. Tambourine Man.”  She briefly recalled the relationship with Stephen Stills that resulted in the songs “Sweet Judy Blue Eyes” and “Helplessly Hoping.  And she joked about the first time she saw Cohen, deciding that he looked so attractive that it didn’t matter whether he wrote great songs or not.

She also included several of her own songs, noting how much her songwriting had been encouraged by Cohen.  And she performed, with passionate intensity, one of her best known originals – “My Father.”

And there was more, much of it recalling the transformative late ‘60s and early ‘70s.  Whether Collins was reminiscing about a past relationship or joking about the era – “If you remember the ‘60s, you weren’t there” – she was an engaging performer, bringing her songs and stories vividly to life in another one of her memorable appearances.


Live Music: Aaron Neville at Disney Concert Hall

December 22, 2012

By Mike Finkelstein

If you ask most people why they like a piece of music, they will more than likely bring up adjectives or comparisons to make their point.    Perhaps they like the feel, the tone, the groove, or the sheer emotion of one song or another.  Ultimately, recognized talent and appeal goes along with a strong body of work over a long period of time.  It also speaks to being heard as and looked upon as exemplary.

All of this came quickly to mind during Aaron Neville’s performance at Disney Hall Tuesday night  Neville has been a unique and tremendous recorded talent for nearly 50 years.   There simply aren’t many/any singers who come across as he does.  To look at him you wouldn’t expect him to have a high voice, much less such one as gorgeously inflected as his.  But that’s why we’re told not to judge a book by its cover.

Aaron Neville

Aaron Neville

A study in contrasts, his appearance looks pretty hard at first glance, tattooed with a distinctive mole above his right eye and a cross on his left cheek, buffed up with bulging muscles, a gold St. Jude’s medallion hanging from his ear.  Often, he holds the mic two-handed to his mouth.   Though it doesn’t seem to jibe with the visual, he sings like an angel.  But that’s just fine as it definitely draws an audience’s attention right in to his presence.   And expressive singing has much to do with conveying a presence.

His voice is a beautifully lilting tenor, precise and subtle in the rarefied highest registers.  Where most singers who can even get that high on the scale often lapse into melisma, Neville has such a subtle touch that he goes in and out of this range effortlessly and wouldn’t think of wasting a word by showing off.  The control and richness that he commands in the mid registers isn’t lost a bit in the highest registers.  Once he takes his voice that high he takes great care to deliver the fine strokes and the broad ones.  It’s all about putting the song over with the gift he was given.

On Tuesday night, the Disney Hall was not filled to capacity, but those of us who showed up saw a journeyman at work.    Some of Neville’s most recent works are deeply religious and for this reason the ambience of Disney Hall was useful as its cavernous, elegantly paneled architecture does evoke the feel and sound of a modern church.  The stage was decorated from side to side with poinsettias and giant snowflakes hung from the ceiling.  This was a Christmas show, after all.

At Disney the band provided two- and three- part backing harmonies for him to glide over as well as tight, punchy arrangements of each song.  Joining the band this evening on sax was Neville’s brother Charles. The program drew from all parts of Neville’s enduring career.   There was his classic power ballad, “Don’t Know Much,” (originally a collaboration with Linda Ronstadt), and covers of Marvin Gaye’s  “What’s Goin’ On?” and the Main Ingredient’s “Everybody Plays the Fool.” From his 2005 Christmas album, Christmas Prayer, he gave us “Little Town of Bethlehem, “ “Ave Maria,” “Merry Christmas Baby,” and “The First Noel.”  Christmas songs often have a way of getting hokey pretty fast but his versions of these songs were different.  They had a tone and feel much closer to gospel music and it was inspiring to hear him lock in the ubiquitous “Silent Night,” and take it to a beautiful level. He also has a new doo-wop album out, My True Story, produced by Keith Richards.   It’s an album of doo-wop chestnuts that allows him to get happily back to some of his roots.  You can certainly hear the doo-wop influence in his delivery.  His sustained falsetto sounds perfect for doo-wop’s layered harmonic format and it figures because he cut his teeth learning to sing Clovers tunes as a kid coming up.   From this side of his taste he served up “Cupid,” “This Magic Moment,” “Ting a Ling,” “Goodnight My Love,” and “Gypsy Woman,” to name just a few.  T

Towards the end of the show he sang, “Tell It Like It Is,” the song that put his voice on the map in 1966.  It’s a beautifully conceived 6/8 jaunt through the sensitivities in holding out for truth in romance.   The words are calmly assertive and the tone of his voice has always given the song a persuasiveness that can only come from a heartfelt yet impeccable delivery.   All of Tuesday night was just that.

To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE

Photo courtesy of Aaron Neville.


Quotation of the Week: Christina Rossetti on Christmas

December 22, 2012

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“Love came down at Christmas; love all lovely, love divine; love was born at Christmas, stars and angels gave the sign.”

- Christina Rossetti

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To read more Quotations of the week click HERE.


Live Musical Theatre: “Anything Goes” at the Ahmanson Theatre

December 20, 2012

By Jane Rosenberg

Los Angeles, CA.  Tired of the annual parade of Nutcrackers and Messiahs?  Looking for musical entertainment that’s sophisticated, witty, and wall-to-wall fun?  Then pack your steamer trunk and hop on board Cole Porter’s cruise ship sailing for nineteen more performances (including matinees) at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.  It’s the Roundabout Theatre’s 1987 Tony award-winning production of Anything Goes, and it is chock-full of Porter’s best: “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “De-Lovely,” and, of course, “Anything Goes.” Superbly choreographed and directed by Kathleen Marshall, with terrific sets by Derek McLane, and costumes by Martin Pakledinaz, this production sparkles from top to bottom.

Star-crossed love and mistaken identity aboard the luxury liner, the S.S. American, generate the plot. Passengers include a gorgeous nightclub owner and singer, a middle-aged fortune hunter, a gangster masquerading as a priest and an ordinary guy masquerading as a gangster, a sexy gun-moll who has a weakness for sailors, a rich, drunken stockbroker, a debutante, and a goofy English lord.  Also on deck are a missionary and a pair of Chinese converts, and though their roles have been softened from the 1934 original, there is still some discomfort in seeing old stereotypes dragged out.

The music, originally orchestrated by Michael Gibson with additional orchestrations by Bill Elliott, was played to blissful effect under the baton of Jay Alger.  And the talent assembled for this romp into the brilliant mind of Cole Porter (not to mention P.G. Wodehouse who had a hand in the original book) was stellar.

As Reno Sweeny, the “seen it all” nightclub owner and heroine of the piece, Rachel York, with her potent and beautifully modulated voice, delivered the goods.  Seems like there’s nothing she can’t do, whether tap dancing with the cast, belting out the mock gospel song, “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” or delivering her knowing lines with spot-on comic timing – albeit a bit heavy on the Mae West imitation.  Erich Bergen played Billy Crocker, the lovesick stowaway, who pines for the debutante, Hope Harcourt. In another terrific performance, Bergen managed the singing, dancing, and comedy with a relaxed charm, every inch a Cole Porter leading man.

Other cast members were equally talented, and the strength of the whole ensemble was that they managed to elevate their roles beyond their hilarious stock characters, to deliver a madcap ménage of quirky personalities.  The only flat performance was Alex Finke as Hope.  She possessed a pleasing voice but seemed to lack bounce and individuality.  Edward Staudenmayer was a knockout as the effete Lord Evelyn.  Like a refugee from a Monty Python skit, and with Michael Palin-esque charisma, Staudenmayer transitioned from uptight Englishman to lust ridden suitor while cavorting like a bullfighter in the number “The Gypsy in Me.”

As for the corps of passengers, crew, and Reno’s sexy quartet of “angels,” they made every minute a party – in particular the sailors who provided the glowing backdrop on which all the action was painted.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for ChildrenJane is also the author and illustrator of DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.

To read more iRoM reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.


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