BWW Review: Antonia Bennett Proves She's a Force to Be Reckoned With In Cafe Carlyle Debut
If you're not already familiar with Antonia Bennett, her current Café Carlyle run and venue debut are quite the introduction. As the daughter of a famous father, Bennett grew up surrounded by quality music and performers, and it was at an early age that she began adding her own voice to the mix. For 10 years she performed with Tony Bennett as his opening act, and she is featured on his album A SWINGIN' CHRISTMAS in a duet between the father and daughter.
But the truth is that the name Antonia Bennett rings familiar with fewer people than her father's. The concrete reason for this has some room for debate--- perhaps it's just that music-listening culture has changed, or maybe it's because she's younger and hasn't performed as much in a solo setting. The reason doesn't matter so much as the fact that Antonia Bennett is a performer to watch, and her Café Carlyle performances are proof of that.
Bennett opened the performance with "Teach Me Tonight" (Gene de Paul), a fun, hoppy opening for a show that alternated upbeat songs with more pensive ones, all from the Great American Songbook. The singer was visibly enjoying herself, dancing along and grinning, especially when the crowd, an especially enthusiastic one, cheered her on.
"I couldn't be more thrilled to be here," she said, half-breathlessly, before launching into "Embraceable You" by George Gershwin, a song she also performs on her new recording, EMBRACE ME. Slower and more pensive than the first three numbers Bennett performed, the standard's longer and fuller notes really showcased her vocal prowess. There was grace and power in each breath she sang.
On the heels of that sweet, dreamy song, Bennett introduced another Gershwin number, "Nice Work If You Can Get It," by saying she used to think it was another sweet love song. (The song is actually about prostitutes, she swiftly informed the audience.)
But, Bennett continued, she still sings the song as if it is a love song. There was a sort of "wink and nod" quality to her performance, showcased by a contrast between how she sang it---her voice excited, slightly breathless, the voice of someone in love---and her prior revelation as well as her body language, both of which clued the audience into the fact that no, this is not, after all, a song about love.
There were a few songs that really showcased the power of Bennett's voice, which is not so much in soaring high notes as in strength and, as unglamorous as the word might be, in the endurance of her singing ability. "Everytime We Say Goodbye" and "From This Moment On," both by Cole Porter, allowed Bennett to really explore her vocal ability. She truly excels not so much during the slower songs, but during faster paced ones where her singing ability is demonstrated through its smoothness during note transitions and her ability to hold a long, powerful note at the end.
For this reason, it was disappointing to have "Always on My Mind" (Johnny Christopher/Mark James/Wayne Carson) close the show; it's slower, more of a downer than, perhaps, "From this Moment On," the Cole Porter piece she performed second-to-last, which really gives Bennett the opportunity to shine.
As a whole, Bennett's performance was self-aware and all-encompassing. During faster paced songs, she danced along, grinning; when the music slowed down, she glanced at the feelings or back at her pianist, Spike Wilner. (Rounding out the band is Paul Newinsky on bass and Anthony Pinciotti on drums.)
Bennett is an accomplished vocalist in her own right, but the fact remains that the world at large recognizes her thanks to her father. Her Café Carlyle debut truly emphasizes that she's a performer to watch, someone worthy of your time and fandom. The set is short, comprised of 13 relatively quick songs, and Bennett doesn't linger unduly on the songs or on too much self-reflection. She strikes a great balance between performing and entertaining, but in the end, she knows her audience is there to hear great music performed well, and she truly delivers on that.
Karis Rogerson is a freelancer for BroadwayWorld who also writes for Bustle, Ravishly, and her own joy. She hopes that someday you'll indulge her even more by reading her novels, and in the meantime you can follow her on Twitter @KarisRogerson.