Tuesday night, Joanne Halev made her New York cabaret debut, an artist in full flower. Where has she been? India, Uganda, Mumbai, Bangkok, Madagascar, Haiti…all of which are referred to with eloquence more likely found in a literary travel memoir.
The show’s title is a double entendre; Halev creates perfume. Scent, she notes, ineluctably affects memory. Wisely making her first presentation personal, we’re introduced to the performer through her family as well as her craft.
“Like a perfumed woman,/The wind blows in the bunk-house/Like a perfumed woman,/ Smellin’ of where she’s been…” Opening with the verse to Frank Loesser’s “Joey, Joey, Joey” from The Most Happy Fella, is inspired. “I Remember You” follows as the night the day in the first of Musical Director Alex Rybeck’s signature, organic transitions. “I will tell them,” Halev sings, eyes closing, “I remember you,” she exhales.
Authors of scent apparently use each other’s skin to test. “Just like music, fragrance is made up of many notes…” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” Halev sings walking fingers up her arm. “One Note Samba,” and “C’est Si Bon” replete with accent, are next, all apt musical choices. (“Are all perfumers French?” –No.) When we’re told the Japanese think bottled scent is an invasion of personal space, “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman” arrives with clever relevance.
Halev has a thoroughly appealing voice, nuanced right down to faint vibrato in a way that affects without being over demonstrative. Focus is omnipresent, intent clear. It simply feels good.
“Not Exactly Paris” is tender, musing. We watch as memories drift across her face. The smallest rueful laugh escapes, a whisper is wistful. Entertaining talk of travel begins with allusion to Abu Dhabi and Dubai where “women and men put on with 5-7 layers of rich, sensual scent.”
“All of You” enters on the haunting rhythm of Ari Axelrod’s conga drum. Dancing hands pat, smooth, and hold fast-left hand on its side as ballast. Ray Kilday’s bass adds shadow; Rybeck’s piano weaves a middle eastern theme through the Cole Porter tune.
“Much More Married,” (Dillie Keane), partly with a well honed British accent, implies that passion is almost required in what would otherwise be an atmosphere of business decorum and that sometimes things get out of hand. “We’ll have to wait for our vows to be wed/Cause he’s a tiny bit more married than he said…” As realization dawns, bile rises. Halev is extremely funny. Acting is again spot-lit during John Bucchino’s difficult soliloquy “Playbill.” Complex lyrics sail on mercurial feeling. Landing is honest.
Thematic ties to her daughters and husband are a bit thin. Halev’s performance is not. She answers one child’s question with a palpably touching “No Fear” (Amanda McBroom). Relating the story of meeting her husband in response to the other (prefaced by “Some Enchanted Evening”) is charming. “All of You” emerges both delicate and soulful. Music passing through him, Rybeck sways and bobs on his bench.
Halev’s grandmother wore L’Air du Temps, her mother Shalimar. An excellent mimic, she brings her Jewish gran to life with humor and love. Rybeck adds a pinch of ethnic flavor to accompaniment. An old photo of her parents evokes a savored “Embraceable You” and “Autumn Leaves/Les Feuilles Mortes” performed in fine French as well as English. Melody drifts down carried by piano and cottony bass.
“I’m so blessed. I’ve seen, experienced and smelled so much…” Here’s where travel is addressed in earnest. An ardent observer, she conjures. “Unforgettable” takes on new meaning. We close with an ebullient “C’est Magnifique” during which Halev dances ebulliently across the stage in a way that makes one want to see more movement from the otherwise discreetly contained performer.
Except for this and a bit more direct eye contact, the show exhibits terrific Direction by Lena Koutrakos. Arrangements by Alex Rybeck are wonderful, his vamping under monologue as evocative as it comes.
Tonight’s appearance introduces a talented performer with imagination, mindfulness, and innate elegance.
Photos by Natalie Fisher Photography
Like a Perfumed Woman- Joanne Halev Directed by Lina Koutrakos Alex Rybeck- Music Director/Arranger/Piano Ray Kilday- Bass; Ari Axelrod-Percussion Birdland Theater
This sold out show will be repeated on July 2