Let the whole world sigh or cry/I’ll be high in the sky/Up on top of a rainbow/Sweeping the clouds away! (“Sweeping The Clouds Away” Sam Coslow)
Robert Kimball is a man you might choose to invite to your ultimate dinner party. Being musically lead from the late 1920s through 30s with this warm, witty, erudite theater historian is both fascinating and fun. Kimball not only informs, but colors selections with anecdotes vividly contextualizing popular music: from “the boundless optimism of the roaring 20s” through the Depression. Songs of gritty observation “Ten Cents a Dance” are outweighed by those reflecting innocent, romantic love and rosy hope “I’ve Got Five Dollars.” We could use more of this in contemporary music. It’s a tonic.
The elegant Christine Andreas performs “Body and Soul,” introduced by Gertrude Lawrence in England and by Libby Holman in the USA. Signature attributes of impeccable phrasing and eloquent restraint imbue credibility though lyrics are pure torch= over the top. With “Love For Sale,” Andreas embodies a tough cookie, both bitter and bemused. The song is wrenching without a single gratuitous expression or gesture. Definitely not a one trick pony, the artist also offers an evangelistic “Get Happy” and a yearning filled “But Not for Me.” Andreas strolls during a music passage emitting the last verse as if a result of contemplation.
Highpoints for Klea Blackhurst are two numbers introduced by Ethel Merman of whom she may be the vocal reincarnation. “I Got Rhythm” from Girl Crazy, showcases that organic, nasal, open throttle, rafter-soaring AHHHHHHHHHHH with which we’re agreeably familiar. While “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” from the 1931 George White Scandals, tamps it down with the vocalist’s own ukulele accompaniment and nostalgic finesse.
The new to me Erin Dilly brings bright countenance and tuneful delivery, but seems more interested in accurate notes than communicating lyrics. “On The Sunny Side of the Street” doesn’t feel effervescent, “Ten Cents A Dance” lacks exhaustion and resignation. “Something to Remember You By” wistfully fares somewhat better; “I’ve Got Five Dollars” is genuinely cute.
Jason Graae, in fine voice, adds considerable comic chops to the evening. “Just A Gigolo,” is unexpectedly performed in ersatz French accent with exaggerated vibrato. Graae even plays an oboe. “This is what you call a gigoloboe.” Ba-dump-dump. “Sank you.”. A lighthearted, dancey rendition of “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” reveals ample music hall skills. Eyebrows rise and fall above Graae’s infectious grin. Duets include “You’re Driving Me Crazy” (with Klea Blackhurst) and the utterly charming aforementioned “I’ve Got Five Dollars.”
John Treacy Egan, with whom I am less familiar, has a full, slightly textured mid range. His version of “Puttin’ On the Ritz,” sung first by Harry Richman in a 1929 film, then by Fred Astaire in 1946, manages to be ebullient without hoofing. The boyish Egan bounces gently up and down on his soles. “Time On My Hands” is smoothly performed conjuring a dinner dance. Solo trumpet is evocative. Audience shoulders sway around me. A duet of “Fine and Dandy” (with Klea Blackhurst) is chipper and well balanced.
Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks provide wonderful vintage arrangements and splendid musicianship equaled only by enthusiasm. The band can be found at The Iguana, 240 West 54th Street, Monday and Tuesday nights.
Projected visuals feature sheet music covers, performers, staged productions, and newsworthy photos of the era. Their appearance, and selective use of a huge mirrored ball, add considerably to creating atmosphere and comprehension.
Next: Getting to Know You: Rodgers and Hammerstein staring April 5, 2014.
Photos by Richard Termine
1. Erin Dilly, Jason Graae, Christine Andreas, John Treacy Egan, Klea Blackhurst
2.Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks
3. Erin Dilly, Jason Graae, John Treacy Egan, Christine Andreas, Klea Blackhurst
Lyrics & Lyricists
Sweepin’ The Clouds Away: Boom, Bust and High Spirits
Robert Kimball- Artistic Director, Writer, Host
Vince Giordano-Co Music Director
Peter Yarin- Co Music Director
David Garrison- Stage Director
Christine Andreas, Klea Blackhurst, Erin Dilly, John Treacy Egan, Jason Graae- Vocals
Vince Giordano & the Nighthawks
92nd Street Y
Theresa L. Kaufman Concert Hall
February 22, 2014