Remember live entertainment?! The rush of collective anticipation, being at a club again, pen in hand, was a welcome feeling Sunday night attending the debut of Dawn Derow’s new show at a special, isolated opening of New York’s Birdland. Collaborators Ian Herman and Jeff Harnar, behind the vocalist’s successful My Ship: Songs From 1941, return with symbiotic excellence. Whatever you think of Gormé (Derow’s opinion is that she was “one of the best vocalists of all time”), this artist delivers in spades.
An apt “I’ve Heard This Song Before” (Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn) melds into “This Could Be the Start of Something Big” (Steve Allen). Derow has stage presence. She confidently flirts with the audience, choosing individuals on whom to focus. Vocal is open-throated and smooooth. “Grammy, Emmy, and Platinum recording artist Eydie Gormé (1928-2013) made her career both on stage and television,” Derow begins pointing out this show is both live and being filmed. Stream at Birdland: Gypsy in My Soul. Rather than imitating, the artist channels its honoree.
“It’s Magic” (Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn) arrives paced and sincere, then, whomp! “And the Angels Sing” (Ziggy Elman/ Johnny Mercer) bounces in. “We speak and the angels sing/Or am I reading music into every word?” Eyes close, nose crinkles, one arm sways forward just short of finger snapping. Derow takes a stroll across the stage. Density, complexity and agility make Herman’s piano sound (throughout the show) like a full band.
“Day By Day” (Axel Stordahl/Paul Weston/Sammy Cahn) has a Latin, country club feel. Pauses occur in all the right places. The vocalist leans forward, gently grasping the microphone stand. Fade is deftly controlled. “Eydie was born Edith Gormenzano. When she changed her name, her mother said, ‘It’s bad enough that you’re in show business. How will the neighbors know if you’re ever a success?” She sang with several touring bands and was then hired by Steve Allen’s Tonight Show where she and Steve Lawrence cemented earlier acquaintance.
“Love Me Not Just a Little” (Buddy Bernier/Moose Charlip) and “Frenesi” (Alberto Dominguez), in Spanish, were first solo hits with Coral Records. Knees bend, hips swerve. Derow sizzles; make no mistake, the lady knows how. That which follows is schmaltz delivered straight. She’s having a great time. It’s infectious. “Most artists have an album that defines them. Eydie’s was Amor with Trio Los Panchos. She grew up surrounded by the songs.” For “Sabor A Mi” (Alvaro Carrillo), Derow stands absolutely still. Graceful arms rise only during the last verse.
“If Steve and Eydie can’t entertain you, nobody can,” Larry King said. “Darn It, Baby, That’s Love!” (Joan Edwards/ Lyn Duddy) was Gormé’s first Grammy nomination. “Grammy Shmammy, I’ve got 2 MACS and a BISTRO,” Derow quips referring to her own awards. Lawrence stand-in, Jeff Harnar, joins her in companionable duet. Chemistry is warm, staging cute and polished, vocals balanced. “Too Close for Comfort” (Jerry Back/George David Weiss/Larry Holofcener) is an amusing, affectionate nod to the man with whom she’s shared quarantine. “Such tem—tation,” Derow sings inhabiting the era.
Stand-in #2 is Danny Bacher. The pair performs “Two Lost Souls” (Richard Adler/Jerry Ross) with “doo-ten doo doo” counterpoint and harmony. Charming arrangement, appealing staging. And “I’ll Take Romance” (Ben Oakland/Oscar Hammerstein II) with Bacher on estimable soprano sax. Derow delivers the first verse in satin a capella, she has that clear a voice. Tempo is head-bobbing, foot-tapping. Bacher’s sax twirls, steps, dips and slides.
“The Gentleman is a Dope” (Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein II) is caustically tuneful. “Why didn’t her name come first?” Derow muses. Attitude is completely credible, perturbed, not overplayed. “They sang together 60 years. For Lawrence, the loss was unimaginable,” introduces “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You” (Jule Styne/Frank Loesser). The artist’s voice seems to float beneath her furrowed brow. There’s a tinge of a sob in “cause.” Even “no sirree,” sounds natural. Lead-ins and bridges are seamless.
Buddy Johnson’s “Since I Fell for You” emerges well handled songbook blues. Low and resigned, her “ahhhh” circles the stage. It seems as if she doesn’t exhale until the last note. Reserve is an asset. A rueful “If He Walked Into My Life Today” (Jerry Herman) arrives airbrushed. Lyric awareness makes this convincing. Pauses leave a breath to reflect after every question. The song builds to upset, but never reaches excess.
“Gypsy in My Soul” (Clay Boland/Moe Jaffe) moves and grooves carried by an exuberant arrangement. Derow’s encore, “After You’ve Gone” ((Turner Layton/Henry Creamer) is sultry and unhurried. She moves like a siren, vocal fans open; piano is hot.
Jeff Harnar deserves a special call-out for some of the best all around direction I’ve seen on a cabaret stage; Ian Herman for unexpectedly intricate arrangements in a pop genre and unequivocal playing.
Performance photos by Stephen Hanks; Opening Photo- Michael Stever
The show has three scheduled, Massachusetts performances in August, then will alight in the city.
Gypsy in My Soul: Dawn Derow Sings Eydie G0rme
MD/Arranger/Pianist Ian Herman
With Guests Jeff Harnar and Danny Bacher
Directed by Jeff Harnar
BIRDLAND WILL OFFICIALLY REOPEN JULY 1, 2021