BWW Reviews: Rising Cabaret Star JENNIFER SHEEHAN Makes Audience Love Her in Cafe Carlyle Debut
Cabaret Reviews and Commentary by Stephen Hanks
Some people, especially some cabaret reviewers and cabaret fans, might think it's lazy or a copout or both for a performer to keep recycling previous shows. But when the Café Carlyle comes a'callin' you: A) May not have enough time to create a totally new show or B) Want to pitch the big game with your best stuff or C) All of the above. Since I only started reviewing cabaret in late 2010, I missed the Laurie Beechman Theatre debut of Jennifer Sheehan's 2009 show You Made Me Love You: Celebrating 100 Years of the Great American Songbook, and missed it again when she brought it to the Metropolitan Room in 2011. So I, for one, am not complaining that she dusted off the critically praised set again (with the new slug "Timeless Classics and New Treasures" from said Songbook show) for her debut last Saturday night at the prestigious Café Carlyle. Sheehan may have been booked for the room's new 10:45 late night series and not the prime time slot, but at least the Carlyle is giving opportunities to exciting young cabaret performers like Sheehan (and Marissa Mulder, who will make her debut at the room on November 7). With You Made Me Love You, Sheehan made everything old new again--at least for me.
The first time I heard one of Cabaret Scenes Magazine's recent cover girls was in a full show last November when she brought Metropolitan Room audiences back to the "Sensational [Early '60s]." It was a perfectly fine effort, if slightly flawed, and Sheehan's charms as a singer, looker, and personality were definitely on display. Still, as someone in her mid-20s who had been touted as a cabaret superstar of the future, I wondered what all the fuss was about. Well, now I know.
Hearing someone so young making love to the Great American Songbook gives you hope that some Millennials might actually appreciate great melodies after all, and the title of Sheehan's show was as much a personal declaration as a reference to one of the show's songs (besides, "How Long Has This Been Goin' On" would have been weird). Sheehan's passion for the popular tunes of the 19-teens to the 1950s doesn't make her "a traitor to her generation," as she jokes in her show, it stamps her a savior and caretaker of an American musical tradition that should not be allowed to fade into obscurity. From beginning to end, this young woman did the Great American Songbook proud.
Sheehan has been singing American pop classics since her early teens and as a disciple of the great Andrea Marcovicci she has learned her lessons well. Looking gorgeously retro in a floor length burgundy gown, the winsome brunette opened with lovely, lush and lilting vocals on the 1939 Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II ballad "All The Things You Are" (from the musical Very Warm for May). She then went back in time to the Big Bang period of the Great American Songbook, going all sultry and sassy on the 1910 standard "Some Of These Days" (popularized by Sophie Tucker), and then deeply committed to the lyrics of the 1913 Al Jolson hit "You Made Me Love You," delivering it as an ode to aching obsession.
Cole Porter would have been obsessed with Sheehan had he been alive to hear her rich, breathy rendition of "In The Still of the Night," and the Gershwin's would have kvelled had they heard her impeccable phrasing and lush mezzo soprano on "How Long Has This Been Going On." (Sheehan's Musical Director James Followell on piano and Bill Ellison on bass were solid and unobtrusive and consistently supportive of their singer from opening to encore.) A few songs later, Sheehan hushed the Carlyle crowd with an enchanting rendition of Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal's classic ballad, "I'll Be Seeing You," which became a World War II anthem. The medley of "Two For The Road" (Henry Mancini/Leslie Bricusse) and "What Are You Doing For the Rest of Your Life? (Michel Legrand/Alan and Marilyn Bergman) was a perfect fit for her voice and her delivery was positively haunting. She followed that by making "When October Goes" (the 1984 song for which Barry Manilow wrote music to the late Johnny Mercer's unfinished lyrics), sound like a languid Legrand melody.
While Sheehan can come across as the sweetest, most polite thing this side of a southern belle, she can also display sensuality coupled with a sense of humor. In what was sort of a female revenge comedy couplet, she was surprisingly fun on the sarcastic lyric of "Do You Miss Me?" sexily sashaying around the small Carlyle stage like Cyd Charisse in her prime, and even showing off a flair for scat. (See video above from Metropolitan Room performance.) She then nailed the rapid-fire lyric in the 1951 Jule Styne/Betty Comden/Adolph Green song "If You Hadn't, But You Did," bringing some cute dramedy to the interpretation. Later, in celebrating Susan Werner as an example of someone helping create the New Great American Songbook, Sheehan was both comic and tragic on the cinematic lyric of "Movie of My Life." (Please click on Page 2 below to continue.)
For her finale, Sheehan merged the Old and New Great American Songbooks: Broadway Musical version, offering a clever medley of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Some Enchanted Evening" from South Pacific with Adam Guettel's "Fable" from The Light in the Piazza. To say that Jennifer Sheehan provided an enchanted Café Carlyle evening--and was herself enchanting--would be an understatement. Her encore? "Our Love Is Here To Stay." I'll say it is.
Jennifer Sheehan will be performing her show You Made Me Love You: Timeless Classics and New Treasures from the Great American Songbook at the Cafe Carlyle 35 East 76th Street on Friday, October 25 at 10:45. For information call: (212) 744-1600
Photo by Stephen Sorokoff