Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
We need a fun musical now and D.C.’s Arena Stage is delivering just that with a rollicking production of Anything Goes, featuring classic Cole Porter songs. Lisa Helmi Johanson plays Hope Harcourt, a debutante who is about to get married, but meeting someone else on board a cruise ships changes all that. In an interview with Woman Around Town’s Charlene Giannetti Lisa talks about her career, how she’s managed to amass a collection of musical instruments, and how Arena’s production of Anything Goes has been updated with a multi-cultural cast that will resonate with audiences in the nation’s capital. Lisa is playing Hope at a time when we need just that.
Monday night, the National Arts Club hosted Shana Farr and Steve Ross in a unique concert spotlighting Christmas and some of the collaborators’ other best loved things. The unique evening offered original arrangements of familiar holiday songs, wry, unexpected novelty numbers, love, romance, hope, faith, and affectionate nods to Cole Porter, Alan Jay Lerner and Manhattan. It was warm, amusing, uplifting and stylish.
A Viennese-waltz-like “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of The Year” segues, with Ross’s “Oh!” into “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” –he’s flirty! And then Farr’s melodically gliding “Sleigh Ride.” Ross tells us “Snow” was written on a hot Los Angeles day. Heat apparently inspires Christmas songs. Irving Berlin is said to have penned “White Christmas” at La Quinta Hotel in Arizona, probably we’re told, in the middle of the night. (He was an insomniac.) “Take this down,” Berlin commanded his secretary. “I’ve just written the best song anyone’s every written.” Accompaniment is both harmonious and fresh.
In the satiric vein, Midwestern-bred Farr performs “Department Stores Mean Christmas to Me.” “…They had to get that frankincense from somewhere!” arrives ingénue-sincere. (David Cameron Anderson/Steve Landau) “I did sit on Santa’s lap outside (J.C.) Penny’s” she admits. And, in duet, Fred Silver’s immortal “The Twelve Days After Christmas”: The third day after Christmas, my Mother caught the croup/I had to use the three French Hens to make some chicken soup/The four calling birds were a big mistake for their language was obscene/The five golden rings were completely fake and they turned my fingers green…
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things” wafts light and lilting (Farr) in tandem with John Wallowitch’s uber-droll “Three Penny Things” (Ross). The latter is just what it sounds like, a charming, family-friendly lyric riding Kurt Weill’s foreboding music. Ross’s ersatz chermin interpretation: “…schnitzel mit noodles…ven the dog bites ven the bee sinks…” is tongue-in-cheek perfect.
Citing the centenary of Alan Jay Lerner, Farr offers “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” as if breathing in tune and Ross sings a tender “The Heather On the Hill” whose melody emerges like an embrace by graceful arms.
More recent material is represented by Larry Kirchner’s “Winter in Manhattan”- Farr imbues its lyric with deep affection, Ross’s soulful, rather elegant “Manhattan Moon” (Richard Crosby/Steve Ross), and “It’s Almost Christmas Eve” (Rosie Casey/Ken Hirsch/Steve Ross/Frederick Chopin), a Norman Rockwell painting of friends, and family evoking gratitude.
The traditional “Three Ships”: I saw three ships come sailing in/On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;/I saw three ships come sailing in/On Christmas Day in the morning…replete with pianistic chimes and- reverence, is lovely. Farr’s acoustic “Oh Holy Night” carries gravitas further. The artist annually sings in a one-room Missouri church at which her grandparents still worship. Tonight she might just as well be wearing a long white choir robe bathed in shafts of light coming through a stained glass window. A powerful and humble rendition.
Farr’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” and “Santa Baby” are less successful for lack of engaging sexual innuendo. Ross’s inevitable Cole Porter numbers though swell, don’t really fit.
To close, we all sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The room is warmer than when we entered, dispositions have softened, spirits have risen. A sophisticated evening presented with talent, class, mutual regard, and genuine feeling for the season.
Photos by Bruce Allan
The National Arts Club – since 1898 Our Mission is to Stimulate, Foster & Promote public interest in the Arts & Educate the American people in the fine arts. 15 Gramercy Park South
The New York Public Library for The Performing Arts is currently host to a small, gem of an exhibition featuring the art/design of nonagenarian artist, Hilary Knight. Those of you aware only of Knight’s most iconic creation, the irrepressible Eloise (authored by Kay Thompson, illustrated by Knight) should treat yourselves to this glimpse into his utterly stylish and inventive world. Meticulously designed and constructed by the honoree himself, the show unfortunately lacks documentation. I recommend the two recordings offered through earphones for illumination.
“What’s amazing to me is that I still do it. Most people my age are playing golf or under ground.”
Hilary Knight’s parents, Clayton Knight and Katherine Sturges, were successful illustrators/designers across diverse fields. Surrounded by taste, talent, and pleasure in craft, he never thought of doing anything else. A sampling of the couple’s work includes Sturge’s charming circus murals painted in the boy’s childhood room. “At four or five,” Knight drew over his mother’s own circus drawings in one of her sketchbooks. A lifelong enchantment with the big top ensued. Pristine, accomplished silhouettes in his oeuvre are inspired by her work for Oneida Silver. (Second floor)
The Circus is Coming by Hilary Knight
Movies – especially musicals and theater – enthralled him. “I never paid attention to the plots, just the sets and costumes.” The elaborate production of Billy Rose’s Jumbo at The Hippodrome, Adrian’s costumes for The Great Ziegfeld, Gertrude Lawrence in Lady in the Dark – “The dream sequence was so beautiful I can see it now” – and Sabu films were particular favorites. “…This kid my age who was riding almost naked on an elephant – I thought, that’s a good idea…” (A fantasy achieved later in life.)
The young man studied with Reginald Marsh at The Art Students League then enlisted in the navy, preferring its uniform to that of the army. Irreverence showed itself with his painted mural of naked Geishas in an officer’s Okinowa Quonset hut.
Prestigious theater designer Jo Mielziner facilitated a season as assistant at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine. Knight found scenic design “too big.” He’s always striven for control. “With books I could do exactly what I wanted.” The New York School of Interior Design added to multifaceted awareness and skill. He painted murals, built packaging maquettes and illustrated. No aptitude went to waste.
Two Vitrines – Vanity Fair Drawings; Portraits – Note Julie Wilson, upper right
Knight credits watercolor drawings of misbehaving children in Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel’s 1887 book of children’s manners La Civilité as very early inspiration. (He pored over it as a child.) Later, he was taken with Ronald Searle’s St. Trinian’s girls in British satirical magazines. (St. Trinian’s was a popular series featuring uncontrollable boarding school inhabitants.) Other influences include Lautrec, Mucha, Erte, Rockwell, and Hirschfeld.
In 1952, inspired by Searle’s pen and ink art, Knight drew “a strange little girl” with her mother for an article on bad little children in Mademoiselle Magazine. Its caption was “I think I’ll throw a tantrum.” (First floor). Eloise by any other name.
The artist lived in a bohemian brownstone filled with people “on their way to becoming important in their fields.” DD Dixon, an editor at Harper’s Bazaar under Diana Vreeland occupied the top floor. While doing a photo shoot with MGM vocal coach and nightclub performer Kay Thompson, Dixon overheard and was addressed in what Knight calls Thompson’s “funny little girl voice,” conjuring a character in the third person. This, the editor thought, should be a book…and I know just the right illustrator. Kismet. “DD is completely responsible for Eloise.”
The original Eloise book
Eloise’s appearance was based, in part, on Knight family friend, Eloise Davison, food writer for the Herald Tribune. “…a funny, pudgy little woman with messy hair I pictured as a child.” Thompson had definite ideas about her charge’s life. Like the author, she would live at The Plaza Hotel. There would be no interfering father (she had hated her own) or even a male dog (Weenie has no weenie). “With all her brilliance and sophistication, Kay was curiously prudish…”
Thompson also insisted the girl’s mother should be perpetually absent, therefore never aging. The only drawing of mother and child and Knight’s favorite Eloise art is an unpublished depiction of our favorite mischievous girl choosing her puppy at “an elegant pugery.” Her elegant mother sits, legs crossed, wearing an enormous Audrey Hepburn chapeau and classic sheath. She watches the proceedings with, of course, her back to us. Knight says her body represents that of Uma Thurman.
Three sequels followed before Kay Thompson lost interest and pulled everything but the original book from print. “She wanted to do it all herself and couldn’t.” The incalculable loss to Knight is compounded by ours.
Hilary Knight’s silhouette self portrait with theater posters
“I was going to the theater a great deal.” Knight started designing theater posters with Harry Rigby’s production of Half a Sixpence in 1965. Some of those that followed were No, No Nanette, Good News, I Love My Wife, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Makin’ Whoopee, Mame and Sugar Babies. These and more are on display. Many were tailored to a particular, always identifiable star. Julie Wilson looks as if she might step out of the page, Ray Bolger as if he’ll dance off it.
Some of Knight’s theater poster designs
The artist apparently created endless designs for Timbuktu and La Cage aux Folles securing neither commission. His interpretation of La Cage, however, was rejected by Alan Carr “for showing drag queens instead of a relationship.” (Ironically the final choice, by another illustrator, emulated Knight’s viewpoint.) Knight also enjoyed working with dance companies. The array of styles, each befitting its vehicle is marvelous.
Portraits are showcased in carefully arranged vitrines: Lena Horne and Billy Strayhorn as Dr. Ferway de la Fer and Her Assistant Sweepa Truehorn stand in frame. (Horne played de la Fer in the film Broadway Rhythm.) Knight purchased some beaded, French Victorian leaves at a Doyle auction of the vocalist’s possessions. The two figures are bead leaf hunters. She holds a tiny trowel. Like many of the portraits, the piece is a contained diorama, part photography, part collage, part assemblage.
Billy Strayhorn and Lena Horne
We see Sabu; Martha Raye (on an ersatz bootleg album cover); Kaye Ballard;, a 5’ Kay Thompson; full page appreciation of Liliane Montevecchi; Isabella Blow; Barry Humphries, with whom Knight collaborated on years of priceless Etiquette Pages in Vanity Fair Magazine; and Ann Miller with Stephen Sondheim. “Ann was doing Follies and couldn’t get the lyric …An imitation Hitler/But with littler charm… so Stephen was in the booth helping her.” (“Can That Boy Foxtrot!”) Knight can’t wait to start a portrait of his friend, Gloria Vanderbilt.
Feathers, Fur Fins and Fans: Isabella Blow “Birds” portrait under glass – wearing Philip Treacy’s Andy Warhol feather hat; above her, the original drawing for a MAC LIPSTICK carton; top right- 1946 oil painting ”the SEA NYMPH”; Righthand photo includes a costume for the film Frog and Nymph worn by Knight’s assistant Wilson Lopez. Performance artist Phoebe Legere played the sprite. (A frog falls in love with a water nymph).
Upstairs, there are costume sketches for one of the artist’s significant dreams Tail’s : An “Exotic, Erotic Revue” inspired by The Crazy Horse and Sugar Babies. He’s even designed a theater for it. (Music, he tells me, would be that of Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim.)
Hilary Knight has illustrated more than 50 books and authored nine. He’s designed theater posters, costumes and sets, makes props, furniture and décor, illustrates for magazines and special projects, and is a collage/assemblage portrait artist. I’m sure I’ve left something out. He rises between four and five a.m., feeds his guppies (no kidding), and works almost every day. Energy, enthusiasm, and warmth are palpable.
Barry Humphries ‘A Moon Bed for Dame Edna’
“To me the most interesting thing is what I’m working on now.”
All exhibition photos and those of Hilary Knight courtesy of Hilary Knight All quotes are Hilary Knight
Hilary Knight’s Stage Struck World The New York Public Library for The Performing Arts – First and Second Floor 40 Lincoln Plaza (between 64 and 65 Streets) Through September 1. 2017 WATCH FOR: Eloise at The Museum at The New York Historical Society June 30-October 9, 2017
Hilary Knight with his niece, Lily Knight
Publishers are slated for: Hilary Knight: Drawn from Life, a Memoir and Olive and Olivier, a graphic novel about eccentric twins separated at birth – Olive will be written by Hilary Knight’s twin nieces, Olivier by Knight.
Lena Dunham’s appreciative 2015 documentary It’s Me, Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise is available online.
Musicals Tonight’s 95th revival, Du Barry Was a Lady, is its 14th Cole Porter Show. The 1940 meringue-weight musical ran 408 performances starring Ethel Merman, Bert Lahr and Betty Grable in her Broadway Debut. There are three or four familiar songs including “Friendship,” later used in Call Me Madam and “Well, Did You Evah!?” that would highlight High Society. The book is sheer ba-dump-dump pastiche.
Peyton Crim and Jennifer Evans; Jennifer Evans and Payton Crim
Sweet, rather dull Louis Blore (Peyton Crim), formerly a men’s room attendant, has won a sweepstakes of $75,000. Sizable rock in hand, he proposes to club vocalist, May (Jennifer Evans). She, in turn, is fixed on handsome columnist Alex (Patrick Oliver Jones- curiously unromantic) whose sister Alice (Katherine McLaughlin) works with her. Other nightspot denizens include Alice’s beau Harry (Tim McGarrigal), club owner Bill Kelly (able, rubber-faced Richard Rowan), and mercenary Cigarette/ Hatcheck girl Vi (Lily Tobin, overtly channeling Ruth Gordon through Betty Boop.)
Tim McGarrigle and Katherine McLaughlin
Direct from the clink, new employee Charlie (Ernie Pruneda), mistakenly slips Louis a Micky Finn (drop-out drug) intended to keep Alex from a date with May. Having just seen the Red Skelton/Lucille Ball film Du Barry Was a Lady, Louis dreams he’s King Louis XV. Everyone shows up in period garb.
May becomes Du Barry holding off her Sire with faux Mae West tone: “I know you want me. I can read you like a book, but you don’t have to use the Braille System.” Meanwhile she’s hot for and hiding a period version of Alex. Farce ensues. Louis develops a clearer take on the life to which he awakens after Versailles, loses or gives away almost all his windfall, yet remains upbeat. Of course.
Patrick Oliver Jones and Jennifer Evans
A contemporary production of Du Barry depends on its director and performers to make froth sit well. In order to bring this off, actors must “play it straight” i.e. appear to an audience as if characters know no better and speak in natural syntax. While a little wink/wink mugging may fly, this particular version, particularly its foray into ersatz history, is self consciously broad to the extreme. (Director Evan Pappas)
Richard Rowan and Payton Crim
Still, the piece has its rewards. Peyton Crim makes a swell Louis, with royal embodiment mostly skirting over-the-top rather than toppling. He’s credibly big-hearted, obtusely hopeful, deftly clumsy, and fluently delivers Porter’s iconoclastic phrasing. Tim McGarrigle (Harry) shows agreeable aspects of Donald O’Connor and Peter Sellers. His nifty, exaggerated French accent echoes Lumiere, the animated candlestick of Beauty and The Beast.
Both Jennifer Evans and Katherine McLaughlin have good voices and dance well. Both, however, overplay. Evans looks to the audience rather than interacting with fellow characters, doing best in duets with Crim who seems to focus his partner with naturalness. McLaughlin, alas, is additionally saddled with the ugly handicap of chewing gum?!
Evan Pappas’s Choreography is lively and cute with subtle awareness of limited space. Use of that space, especially employing back-up girls/ boys, is visually appealing.
Vocal Arrangements are very fine.
A painted backdrop and rose trellis that flips to become a bed, work to add color and fantasy.
Long legged Chorus Girls: Elizabeth Flanagan, Ashley Griffin, Tina Scariano
Chorus Boys: Mark Bacon, Jamil Chokachi, Colin Israel, Evan Maltby
The venerable Musicals Tonight has completed another season, sharing productions of shows otherwise rarely (if at all) available to audiences. It continues to provide a worthy and appreciated platform.
Photos: Opening – The Company
Musicals Tonight! presents Du Barry Was a Lady
Music & Lyrics by Cole Porter
Libretto by Herbert Fields & BG DeSylva
Directed & Choreographed by Evan Pappas
Music Director/Vocal Arranger- James Stenborg
Through April 9, 2017 The Lion Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
Unlike most of his iconic peers, Cole Albert Porter was neither Jewish nor of immigrant heritage. Born to an extremely wealthy Indiana family and raised among the privileged class about which he’d eventually write with rapier wit and veracity, Porter defied his family’s wishes to become a songwriter.
Host David Loud condenses his subject’s history into a three minute preface, from unpopular first effort, See America First, through marriage to older socialite Linda Lee Thomas “…Man with One Million Marries Woman with Two” read the headlines-a love match despite opposite sexual orientation, success, failure, and the crippling, riding accident that would eventually drain him of the will to keep writing. Narrative is parsed between verses of “You’re the Top” (Anything Goes) giving neither the clever lyric nor background story opportunity to land well. (This also occurs with verses of the title song of that show. Further biographical details do emerge later.)
Allison Blackwell, Lewis Ceale
A music director/arranger, Loud knows his stuff where song construction and lyrics are concerned. While pointing out adroit rhymes, high/low allusions (You’re a Bendel bonnet/A Shakespeare’s sonnet/You’re Mickey Mouse), lack of AABA structure “Richard Rodgers would set himself on fire before doing this,” word emphasis, and octave changes is interesting, the amount of time taken up with this academic approach deprives us of entertainment. Does the lay audience need to recognize a major 7th chord? It also means many numbers are aired as brief excerpts, used merely as examples of analyzed points.
On the plus side, the commentator has a fine, dry sense of humor, cites well chosen quotes, playfully brings out Porter’s facility with unabashedly sexual lyrics, and approaches the songwriter’s relationships and tragedy with respectful gravitas.
Five able vocalists offer examples of the writer’s remarkable oeuvre to varying success. Lewis Ceale employs his resonant voice a bit too robustly during “It’s De-Lovely.” “Begin the Beguine” (Jubilee) and “All of You” (Silk Stockings) however, arrive romantically low key, the former unexpectedly ending in high tenor.
Matthew Scott, Nikki Renee Daniels
Allison Blackwell’s “Night and Day” (Gay Divorce) swells so quickly in volume, it diminishes emotional effect. “Find Me a Primitive Man” (Fifty Million Frenchmen) lacks sexual innuendo. “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” (Seven Lively Arts) is prettily, tunefully sighed by Nikki Renee Daniels.
Well performed numbers by Matthew Scott include a lovely, heartfelt, “In the Still of the Night” (Rosalie) with light piano and lighter triangle and a particularly rueful “Just One of Those Things.” (Jubilee)
The ever welcome, here under-utilized Rebecca Luker delivers entirely believable renditions of a wrought “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (Born To Dance) and infectiously swept up “So in Love.” (Kiss Me Kate.) “The Tale of The Oyster” (Fifty Million Frenchmen), sung in that beautiful soprano, gives its tongue-in-cheek satire just the right tone of sophistication and sarcasm.
At one point, we hear a recording of Ethel Merman, a pleasing addition.
All the vocalists have solid instruments and ample credits. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, one might conjecture heavy handed direction by Noah Racey. Additionally, some song interpretations are decidedly odd: After two lines of “Love For Sale” (The New Yorkers) whose sentiments belong to an exhausted, hardened purveyor of sex, a vocalist breaks into “I’m a Gigolo” (Wake Up and Dream) as if a college ingénue proud and excited by the new job.
In another instance, several lines from “Why Can’t You Behave?”, a song fed-up Bianca sings to her philandering husband in Kiss Me Kate, is followed (same singer) with “I’m Always True to You (in My Fashion)” (Kiss Me Kate.) During both, a pregnant vocalist pats her belly addressing her unborn child. Explain this to me.
“Let’s Misbehave” (cut from Paris) is presented with men (one drunk) pawing the women which changes intended lyrical flirt to unpleasant aggression. In response, the women’s “Let’s Not Talk About Love” (Let’s Face It!) is then reduced to disgust not frustrated bemusement. Staging a vivacious “Can Can” (Can Can) in which the company executes choreography from stools in deference to pregnant Nikki Renee Daniels, is very cute.
The finale, “I Happen To Like New York” (The New Yorkers) sung with appealing enthusiasm by Cleale, is an awkward musical choice for audience participation. Few join projected lyrics.
Tonight’s Orchestra: Robert Zubrycki, Sarah Seiver, Dave Noland, Mary Ann McSweeney, and Joe Nero; Paul Masse- Conductor/Piano- are top notch throughout.
Projections of cliché, clip-art images are unstylish and unfortunate. Where are the wonderful archival photographs to which we’re accustomed?
The great Irving Berlin once wrote to Cole Porter “Anything I can do, you can do better,” (a statement opposite to the lyric in his song for Annie Get Your Gun.) Based on surprising audience reaction, many remain unfamiliar with the Porter. I suggest those of you who fit this bill, immediately tap into YouTube and have a good time.
Photos by Richard Termine Opening: Matthew Scott, Rebecca Luker, Nikki Renee Daniels, Allison Blackwell, Lewis Ceale
Lyrics & Lyricists presents Let’s Misbehave: The Sensational Songs of Cole Porter David Loud-Artistic Director/Writer/Host 92nd Street Y 92nd Street & Lexington Ave. February 11, 2017 NEXT: Baby, Dream Your Dream: Dorothy Fields and the Women of the American Songbook – March 18-20
It’s a great time for a feel good musical so The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s production of Anything Goes opened on January 14 to a full house and an enthusiastic audience. The talented cast made the most of Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Let’s Misbehave,” and, of course, “Anything Goes,” songs that are almost a hundred years old but remain timeless.
Mara Stewart and James Maxted
With songs this good, the story takes a back seat. The original book was a collaborative effort by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse, heavily revised by the team of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Billy Crocker, a young Wall Street broker, is a stowaway aboard an ocean liner bound from New York to London. He’s in love with heiress Hope Harcourt (Tori Garcia), who is engaged to the stuffy British Evelyn Oakleigh. Billy is aided in his quest to win Hope by Reno Sweeney, a nightclub singer, and Moonface Martin, otherwise known as Public Enemy #13. There are high jinks on the high sea including mistaken identities, a con bilking passengers out of money, and, for Billy, time in the brig.
The role of Reno Sweeney always attracts singers with big voices (Patti LuPone, Sutton Foster, and Stephanie J. Block, on Broadway, for example). Mara Stewart, appearing at LTA for the first time, makes the kind of impression that will certainly lead to future roles. Her performance raises the bar and the rest of the cast is quick to respond, including Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker), Ken Kemp (Moonface Martin) and James Maxted (Sir Evelyn Oakleigh). Cesna and Kemp have a great rapport. Their banter while slap-stick is believable, appropriate for this age-old show. As Moon Face’s girlfriend, Bonnie, Jacqueline Salvador adds comic relief. Reno’s angels, providing excellent backup singing, include Caitlyn Goerner, Ashley Kaplan, Katie Mallory and Elizabeth Spilsbury.
The cast performs “Let’s Step Out.”
Tap dancing fans get their fix with the lively performance of “Let’s Step Out,” featuring the Angels and the sailors played by Michael Gale, Ricardo Coleman, Kurtis Carter and Andrew Sese.
LTA continues to pull out all the stops with its sets, this one depicting the cruise liner, SS American, as well as perfectly detailed state rooms. Bravo to the lighting team for distinguishing day and night. The seven-piece orchestra hits all the right notes without overshadowing the performances.
Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography Top photo: Ken Kemp (Moonface Martin), Mara Stewart (Reno Sweeney), Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker).
“Anything Goes” runs through February 4, 2016 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For more information, visit www.littletheatre.com or call the Box Office at 703-683-0496.
Josephine Sanges has a superb voice. That, up till two years ago, she showcased her instrument only at church is something of a surprise. While gifted range and skilled control often dedicate themselves to higher power, Sanges’ s finesse with a world of lyrics describing seriously alternative experience and her facility with other genres are notable.
This show may also be a revelation to fans of Ann Hampton Callaway unfamiliar with her songwriting, but for a television theme song. (“The Nanny Named Fran.”) The author, who writes from the heart, is ably represented. Few artists could offer the material with these muscular vocals, jazz colors, and the clear-eyed spirituality underlying lyrics.
“Come Take My Hand” is a bossa nova. Sanges seems to sing above written notes. This iconoclastic style is rather unique and serves her well. “Music,” with Tom Hubbard’s very cool bass supplying vertebrae, has passages which soar (unstressed) like birds hitching rides on updrafts. Rhythm and mood are infectious.
The tandem “I’ve Dreamed of You” (Hampton Callaway with Rolf) and “I Gaze in Your Eyes” (Cole Porter with music by Hampton Callaway) are episodes of tenderness. Phrasing is eloquent. A small hand gesture and raised shoulder say it all.
“Two And Four” about “getting” jazz, is cleverly framed by Sanges beginning in her choir robe. With a little instruction by Pianist/MD John M. Cook and Hubbard (both wry), what’s operatic gradually gives way to accented, rhythmic swing: Goodbye to my square days/Cause I know the score/You do it on the two and four…The song ramps right into Irving Mills/Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing” replete with interjected hallelujah ! Sanges loosens up during this irrepressible tune.
“It’s All Right with Me” (Cole Porter) and Hampton Callaway’s “Bring Back Romance” are memorable for low key, distinctly original arrangements. Sanges savors feelings. The first elongates lyrics landing like a falling leaf. Piano is filigree. The second is evocatively breathy; bass pulses, piano flickers.
The beautifully rendered, palpably sincere, brotherhood ballad “At the Same Time” and “It’s Hip to Be Happy” buoyed by Cook’s background vocal, bass and scat, are demonstrably characteristic of Hampton Callaway. Sanges is appealingly carbonated.
“Perfect” ends the show backed by crystal wind chimes (piano) and bowed bass. Sigh.
Caveats: “Lady Be Good” (George and Ira Gershwin), custom designed for satin-swathed chorines, doesn’t for a moment sound like someone asking something of his/her lover. “Lullaby of Birdland” (George David Weiss/George Shearing), remarkable for its vocal, alas speeds by like a brakeless train, sacrificing attitude. On the one hand, sambas are just a tad heavy and too physically still. On the other, minimal gestures keep focus where it belongs; the lady has presence.
Josephine Sanges needs to learn to trust us. Numbers in which expression subtly emerges as personal stand out. Warm, economic patter somewhat compensates. With an instinctual toe in jazz, I anticipate her growing freer with riffs. A worthy, entertaining show by a talented newcomer, more savvy than her experience.
Original lyrics penned by MD/Pianist John M. Cook are seamless and clever, eschewing phrases of usually cloying appreciation (to the tribute subject)
All songs by Ann Hampton Callaway unless otherwise attributed.
Photos by Sheree Sano
Josephine Sanges: to Ann with love
Sunday February 19, March 12, April 28
Simon Green and David Shrubsole made their New York debut at 59E59 Theaters in 2008 with the Noel Coward show A Changing World. I attended-twice. Here, I thought, were performers who “got” Coward, both his tender sentimentality and acerbic wit. Green’s British accent, actor’s phrasing, perception, and intelligence buoyed an unforced theatrical tenor. Shrubsole’s role as creative Sancho Panza was a perfect fit.
Eight years later, with one appearance here between, the respectively accomplished duo come together again to give us a more personal glimpse of Sir Noel. Copious research is evident in selections of Coward’s letters (to and from), poems, diaries, and songs. The latter also mines material from Cole Porter, Ivor Novello, George Gershwin, and Irving Berlin which the program conjectures were inspired by Coward. Jeremy Nicholas’s “Place Settings” could actually be mistaken for Coward, influencing Porter and Novello is highly plausible. I wonder at the inclusion of Gershwin and Berlin on this list, however.
Additionally, with mixed results, the show includes Shrubsole’s setting of verse by Coward, Porter and Maya Angelou. A sophisticated The Little Old Bar at the Ritz (Porter’s verse) arrives smart and melodic, but Angelou’s Human Family seems to be in the wrong show, and Coward’s Honeymoon 1905 drones on almost monotone. Too many settings sound alike.
Readings and monologues are often quite wonderful. I Knew You Without Enchantment is a virtuoso turn. Green can toss off phrases like “My darlings” as if they were second nature. Correspondence between Podge and Stodge (Coward and his mother, Violet) rings wry and warmly true.
The show features eclectic songs such as : “Something Very Strange is Happening to Me,” “Don’t Turn Away From Love” (with an effective soupcon more emphasis on don’t) and “I Saw No Shadow” (Shrubsole paints melodic pictures) as well as the iconic “I Travel Alone”, “London Pride”, and “Sail Away.” These last three are melancholy, dignified, wistful, resigned, while a rendition of “I Went To a Marvelous Party” is unexpectedly rushed, chopped by interjected text, and unfunny. This is not the Green I remember.
At home both on a big stage and in an intimate cabaret environment, Green looks slowly around the room drawing us in. The artist, like Coward, is elegant. There are genuinely touching and lighthearted moments. Shrubsole’s accompaniment and background music (to spoken verse) is respectively sensitive and spot on. In this show, however, he’s is more successful with other composer’s melodies.
I admire these artists, but am disappointed with their latest effort.
Photos by Heidi Bohenkamp
Simon Green Life is for Living-Conversations with Noel Coward Musical Director/Pianist/composing contributor-David Shrubsole Research- Jason Morell 59E59 Theaters 59 East 59th Street Through January 1, 2016