Amy Beth Williams is a double distilled lady, polished, elegant, dignified. Fortunately, though she could physically loosen up some, this doesn’t indicate lack of emotional communication. Williams seems to take in lyrics whole, process, and exhale. She’s clearly given thought to content. Understated delivery is rife with feeling.
The vocalist’s musical skill is absolute pleasure. Whether bright or dark, there’s fullness to delivery, control, and a back end trill occasionally creating frisson. She can go feather light on pitch or soar without abrasion. Arrangements by Ian Herman are layered and lush, with apt underpinnings of classical, honky-tonk, and pop. The band is tight and fine. Ritt Henn’s ukulele and whistle number shines.
Ian Herman; Amy Beth Williams and Ritt Henn
Concept for the show offers a roster of songs less often heard exhibiting Williams’ range. “These ladies would come out the stage of a variety show wearing a gown, sing, bow, and leave…” Many selections apparently came from the B side of old 45s. The performer credits inspirations like Eydie Gormé, Julie Wilson, Shirley Bassey, Marilyn Maye and, curiously, Dusty Springfield, whose attributions are grouped after performance.
A “Big Spender” vamp prefaces John Meyer’s “I’d Like to Hate Myself in the Morning” which slides into “Alright, Okay, You Win” (Mayme Watt/Sid Wyche) in turn giving way to “I Told Ya I Love You, Now Get Out” (Herb Ellis/Lou Carter/ Johnny Frigo). The last lyric lands with the force of a bull’s-eye arrow. Wake up audience, this is talent!
“Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” (James F.Hanley) is buoyantly expressive. Williams appealingly bounces a little as if she can’t contain herself. Right leg keeps time. A lilting, savored “Fly Me to the Moon” (Bart Howard) is sheer romance. In other words/I love you, arrives endearingly with facial expression that asks, “Do you love me?”
I close my eyes and count to ten/And when I open them you’re still here… (“I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten” -Clive Westlake) she sings hands clasped, stunned with gratitude and surprise. Bowed bass gets under one’s skin and provides ballast. We’re so invested that merely upping an octave exhilarates. “Thank You for Calling” (Cindy Walker) is affecting, pristine; Oh, you’re not coming… palpably hurt.
Amy Beth Williams
“A Sweet Young Thing” was jilted by her husband (Bill Justis/Wilke White) with old time player piano sound is opportunely followed by Cole Porter’s “Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love” They just like to kick it around. The latter could be more provocative, but it brings out comedienne chops fully realized later in “I’d Rather Cha Cha Than Eat.” The Murray Grand song is an adorable scene in one. Williams is funny. A highlight.
A propulsive, up-tempo gypsy arrangement of Richard Rodgers’ “The Sweetest Sounds” whirls in on dynamic piano. Music is breathless, vivid, itself physical. Instrumental is thrilling, vocal exultant. “The Greatest Performance of My Life” (Oscar Anderle-Spanish/ Robert I. Allen-English) tells the story of a woman putting on a party face after her husband’s abandonment. We believe every proud, painful word. Bass resonates. Piano is luxurious: But love if you had been behind the curtain when it fell…/You would have seen this actress crying…
Arthur Schwartz/Howard Deitz’s “By Myself” appears in two parts, one wounded, the other insouciant, much like Fred Astaire’s version. It’s dark and nimble. Brushes circle, cymbals are patted, piano dances. Alas, the artist is gazing over our heads. This happens a few too many times. Connection is vibrant when she does look.
We close with a vaudeville rendition of “One of Those Songs” Gerard Calvi/Will Holt) during which, I swear, it seems as if four hands are irrepressibly playing piano. Amy Williams is infectiously up as, at this point, are we.
Photos by Stephen Hanks
Amy Beth Williams: Great Ladies, Great Songs
Tanya Moberly- Director
Ian Herman- MD/Piano
Ritt Henn-Bass, Don Kelly-Drums
Don’t Tell Mama
December 10, 2018