It’s a familiar story – an actress steps away from the business in favor of motherhood, then, facing an empty nest, wonders where her dreams have gone. “Say Yes!”, however, escapes tired cliché with the presentation of apt, lesser known material by a performer who emerges sympathetic, likeable, real. Kudos to director Jeff Harnar.
“Did you know the average person makes 35,000 choices a day?” Kahn begins, setting the stage for some of her own. Pandemic choices to be vaccinated and boosted lead to Cole Porter’s “Don’t Fence Me In.” The jaunty, original (non-western) arrangement eminently suits her voice. One wonders why the intro didn’t include a sentence that referred to being cooped up.
A few lyrics from “Naughty” (Tim Minchin – Matilda) segue to “Miss Byrd.” (Richard Maltby Jr./David Shire –Closer Than Ever). “I sit here at my desk and none knows/ twenty minutes ago I was not wearing clothes…” the vocalist sings seductively playing with her eyeglasses, smiling like a Cheshire cat. Comic timing is adorable. Eyebrows come to a point. Every gesture fits. “Oh my, I’m a little flushed…”
A little too much exposition elicits her comment, “I’m the little engine that could.” “Wheels” (Amanda McBroom) is understated, battered but hopeful. One wants to roll in the arrangement like spring grass. Instead of expected momentum, interpretation bears an unusual arc: happy anticipation, sadness, then emotional revival.
The nifty “You’re a Builder-Upper” (EY Harburg/Harold Arlen/Ira Gershwin) paired with “Undecided” (Sid Robin/Charlie Shavers) arrives in duet with Christopher Denny. It’s a cute number, deftly animated. A single Mae West line tracks back to skilled character humor showcased in “Miss Byrd.” The tender, tuneful “Anywhere With You” (Chris Denny) apprises us of her “other” husband (in the audience) on their 42nd anniversary.
Home life manifests itself with a song to the couple’s much wanted child and one of the most poignant versions of Craig Carnelia’s “Just a Housewife” I’ve heard. Kahn’s take is a bruised appeal for understanding. She has no regrets, but- Jay Leonhart’s bowed bass crosses our hearts. A tandem “Pick Yourself Up” (Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields) and “Slap That Bass” (George and Ira Gershwin) gives the master a chance to shine. Leonhart’s innate cool and craftsmanship is pretty much untouchable. Here he plays, sings and scats, seamlessly incorporating riffs from other songs.
“Brave” (Sara Bareilles) embodies determination. Though it’s addressed to her daughter, Kahn might just as well be talking to herself or to any of us. Expression is anthemic without volume. “I Can See Clearly Now” (Graham Nash) and “Yes!” (John Kander/Fred Ebb) end the show as if bespoke.
An edit of exposition and perhaps lowering a few octaves where stress is audible would serve. There’s no doubt, however, that the audience is emphatically in her corner cheering the vocalist on to the next chapter. “Say Yes!” is an auspicious debut show with notably fine collaboration.
Photos by Helane Blumfield
Linda Kahn- “Say Yes!”
Directed by Jeff Harnar
Music Direction/Piano- by Christopher Denny
Bass- Jay Leonhart