BWW Reviews: JANE MONHEIT & CLINT HOLMES Dazzlingly Deliver the Songs of Frank Wildhorn at Cafe Carlyle
Cabaret Reviews and Commentary by Stephen Hanks
Before the finale of Tuesday night's Café Carlyle show celebrating the varied compositions of Frank Wildhorn, the Grammy and Tony Award-winning composer quoted his frequent collaborator, lyricist Jack Murphy, as once offering that "Great singers are a songwriter's best friends." Even though Murphy's thought is hardly original, no words could be more true after listening to the scintillating songstress Jane Monheit and the performing powerhouse Clint Holmes deliver 16 songs that are solid but wouldn't exactly be called classic examples of what passes for the late 20th century Great American Songbook.
(Editor's Note: Both Monheit and Holmes were recently voted as winners of 2013 BroadwayWorld New York Cabaret Awards for, respectively, "Best Female Jazz Vocalist" and "Best Male Celebrity Vocalist.")
Wildhorn, Monheit and Holmes were beginning a six-show run at the Carlyle (ending with two shows Saturday night) of the Frank Wildhorn & Friends show they initially staged last April in the Cabaret Jazz Room at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas, and which the Vegas PBS station televised this past December. The Carlyle show is also serving to promote a new CD of the concert. It was evident from the start of this new run that it was an inspired choice teaming the celebrated and sultry East Coast-based jazz chanteuse Monheit with the swinging style of Holmes, who is a popular fixture in his Vegas home base. While any witty repartee between the singers was limited because Wildhorn provides most of the song setups from the piano, there was clearly a musical chemistry that energized the room. Cutting one or two songs and giving Jane and Clint time to trade some banter in future shows would be a welcome fix.
Wildhorn's pop and Broadway songbook can range from inspiring and dynamic to insipid and derivative, even when he's had wonderful singers delivering them, such as his ex-wife Linda Eder or Robert Cuccioli (both stars from the Wildhorn musical Jekyll & Hyde). Wildhorn has long had his critics among the musical theater cognoscenti--and for good reason--but you can't blame him that there is a large universe of "Jekkies," who believe great musical theater began with Wildhorn shows like J & H and The Scarlet Pimpernel. Monheit and Holmes certainly set the bar high in their opening number, "Til You Come Back To Me," but there was an unmistakable flavor of Van Morrison's "Moondance" permeating the tune. After the duo got their Latin side on for the sexy, up-tempo "Havana," from Wildhorn's as yet un-produced musical of the same name, Monheit delivered a jazzy version of "How 'Bout a Dance," from the recent Broadway bomb Bonnie & Clyde, a song that sounded like a cross between "After You've Gone" (a hit song from the period just before B & C became infamous) and Harold Arlen's melody for "The Man That Got Away."
Speaking of Judy Garland, Wildhorn related how he wrote the melody for "Easy" (from his short-lived 2005 musical with Murphy about F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald) with Garland in mind. But Monheit's lovely delivery of the song sounds like pure Streisand. In fact, one of the revelations of this show (for this reviewer at least) is how Monheit sounds so much like Streisand when she isn't layering on her wonderfully distinctive jazz vocal vibe. On "Living In The Shadows" (from Victor/Victoria) and "Women in His Arms" (from the 2003 Musical Camille Claudel and based on the life of the real-life French sculptor and graphic artist), Jane channeled Barbra as well as any singer around who has been influenced by the legend.
While Monheit was her usual excellent self throughout (she was also lovely on "Someone Like You" from Jekyll & Hyde, one of those pop-flavored Broadway tunes from Wildhorn that sound like it's written for a Disney movie heroine), it was Holmes who stole this particular show, performing again as if he was hell-bent on proving to New York nightclub audiences that he should be considered a star in this neck of the woods. But what is so endearing about Clint is that he isn't overbearing or showy about it, exuding a passion and joy for singing, coupled with a no-holes-barred energy that can make one an instant fan. During the first half of the show, Holmes dazzled on the jazzy, up-tempo "I Guess I Love You" (a song popularized by Linda Eder), bringing a cozy Rat-Packian flavor to Jack Murphy's clever lyric: "Why fight it? What can I do? I am pathetically, genetically disposed to you." And later: "I guess I love you, like Santa loves his sled. Like 'Blue Eyes' said, 'You go to my head,' 'Specially in bed." (Please click on page 2 below to continue.)
Holmes also displayed his tender, heartfelt side on the beautiful ballad, "Sarah," from the 1999 Wildhorn/Murphy musical The Civil War, and later showed off his versatility, hitting three straight home runs on the Big Jekkie Ballad, "This Is The Moment" (man, would 'Ole Blue Eyes have loved singing that one?), the jazzy, swinging and frenetic "The Mad Hatter" from Wonderland ("Clint's take is outta sight!" said Wildhorn during the setup), and the Whitney Houston hit power ballad "Where Do Broken Hearts Go?" When Monheit joined Holmes again for the encore on "Anything Can Happen," Clint even channeled Louie Armstrong on part of the vocal. Café Carlyle has been savvy enough to bring in Holmes for some successful solo runs the past couple of years and it behooves a hot new celebrity-oriented club like 54 Below to think about doing the same, if only for a one-nighter.
With a boffo band featuring David Mann on tenor sax, the lovely Julia Adamy on bass (both upright and electric), and Clint de Ganon on drums providing a pulsating percussion, Monheit and Holmes were given outstanding instrumental support on terrific arrangements. If these two superb singers can be this good on the Wildhorn songbook, one can only imagine what they might do together with the songs of Leonard Bernstein, Rodgers and Hart, or even Lennon and McCartney. Perhaps one day soon we'll all find out.
Frank Wildhorn & Friends with Clint Holmes & Jane Monheit continues its run at Café Carlyle on Friday, January 31 at 8:45 and Saturday, February 1 at 8:45 and 10:45. For reservations: www.thecarlyle.com or by phone at 212.744.1600. Cafe? Carlyle is located in The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel (35 East 76th Street, at Madison Avenue).
Photos by Stephen Sorokoff