BWW Reviews: Rosemary Loar is 'Out of This World' in Her Arlen-Ellington Tribute Show at the Metropolitan Room
Cabaret Review by Stephen Hanks
When I heard that Rosemary Loar's new cabaret show was called When Harry Met The Duke, it immediately made me think about the film When Harry Met Sally, which then made me think about the famous scene in Katz's deli, which then made me ask myself the question, "Have reviewers ever faked it?" (because that's the way my warped and fevered mind works). No, not orgasms, silly. Have they ever faked positive reviews? As in giving a show or a performer a great review even when they really didn't care for either. Given what everyone in the New York cabaret community seems to agree is the incestuous nature of the biz (such as it is), I'm sure it's happened. I just hope an orgasm was involved--at least for someone. (Photo above by John Quilty)
While I'm probably as guilty as the next reviewer of occasionally going a bit too over the top for a good show or performance, I can honestly say I haven't "faked it" (at least not yet), and I don't have to start now when describing the opening night of Rosemary Loar's new show, her third straight excellent effort over the past 18 months (she scored in July 2011 with Rosemary Returns to Her Roots, a collection of her own compositions, and last February with her Sting, Stang, Stung tribute to Sting). With her tribute show to the music of Harold Arlen ("Somewhere Over the Rainbow," et al.) and Duke Ellington ("Take the A Train," et al.), When Harry Met The Duke is Loar's creative foray back into the caressing arms of the Great American Songbook (GAS). If you consider that the contemporary cabaret scene in New York is 30 years on (since the opening of Don't Tell Mama in 1982 and the start of the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs [MAC] in 1983), there have likely been thousands of cabaret shows with GAS themes and the interesting new ideas may be down to a precious few. Loar, who has been performing cabaret shows during that same time frame, has managed to come up with yet another variation, and her erudite and accessibly sophisticated new show featuring wonderful jazz, pop, and Broadway songs from the 1930s-'50s goes down like a delicious vodka martini topped with a skewer of blue cheese-stuffed olives.
With her able Musical Director and arranger Frank Ponzio at the keyboard and a bouquet of flowers on the piano lid, Loar's lean and lithe body looked lovely in a plum-colored, sleeveless, floor-length gown with a plunging neckline; the same dress that is so striking in her show promotions where she is pictured hovering over the New York City skyline as if she is the focus of an urbane version of the poster for the late '50s film, Attack of the 50-Foot Woman.
One of New York cabaret's strongest jazz singers, the 2012 winner of the MAC Hanson Award for "Excellence in Cabaret" (photo right), opened with a jazzy medley of Ellington's (and Bob Russell's) "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me" with Arlen's (and Ted Koehler's) "Let's Fall in Love." She then went into a sultry scat on The Duke's "Caravan" (lyrics by Irving Mills), and followed that with a deeply personal, emotional, and nostalgic rendition of Ellington and Mills' "Prelude to a Kiss." Throughout the show, Loar's patter seemed charmingly stream of consciousness, but here she romantically reminisced about a long ago walk in the park with her dance teacher Robert Atwood (photo next page), and about how the sparks were flying before he finally decided to plant one on her. With Atwood (now her husband and creative collaborator) in the audience, Loar fought against her voice cracking at the end of the lyric: "Oh, how my love song gently cries/For the tenderness within your eyes/My love is a prelude that never dies/A prelude to a kiss." (Please click on Page 2 below to continue.)
Loar's show isn't the first time someone has connected Arlen to Ellington. In fact, in 1965, The Duke and his orchestra played Arlen's "Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" in a 60th Birthday tribute to Arlen on the Bell Telephone Hour TV show hosted by Dinah Shore. In 1990, pianist Andre Previn (with guitarists Mundell Lowe and Joe Pass) produced an album merging Arlen and Ellington classics. And one of the interesting subtexts of Loar's show--which she should flesh out a bit in future dates--once again explores the strong affinity that assimilated Jewish pop songwriters had for the music of African-American jazz musicians. This connection is often explored in popular culture in films like The Jolson Story, which depicts a young Al Jolson becoming a "jazz singer" after experiencing the "new" music he discovers in the bowels of New Orleans, and in The Glenn Miller Story, which shows young, white big band musicians like Miller and drummer Gene Krupa jamming with Louis Armstrong and other black jazz greats at Harlem's famous Cotton Club.
In fact, as Loar points out during her show, the Cotton Club is where, between 1930-34, Arlen and one of his most frequent lyric collaborators Ted Koehler wrote songs for jazz band leaders like Ellington and Cab Calloway, creating enough material (like the classic "Stormy Weather") for two shows per year. Loar, who is a fine songwriter and introduces her own solid material in every show, used this bit of musical history as the inspiration for composing a title song to tie together this immensely enjoyable set. In the jazzy story song about Harry and The Duke trying to write a tune together that wouldn't quite work, Loar's clever lyrics included titles of famous Arlen and Ellington songs and ended with "No one will ever know, why the music didn't flow/Between the A Train and the Rainbow." Rosie's take? "Yes, they're human."
The music and Loar's vocals certainly flowed on the wild "Quando Swing," which has become one of her standards (it was featured on her 2008 CD of the the same name) and is a mashup of an Italian opera aria with Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." From the Arlen songbook, Loar was poignantly vulnerable on "Ill Wind," sweetly seductive on "Out of This World," and subtly soulful on two Arlen/Truman Capote ballads from the 1954 musical House of Flowers (and that became standards in the Barbra Streisand repertoire) "I Never Has Seen Snow," and her encore "Sleepin' Bee." After Rosemary delivers the last line, "When my one true love, I has found," she definitely isn't faking it when she then breathlessly tells her audience, "I have found my true love . . . and it's singing for you."
I'll have what she's having.
Rosemary Loar will be performing When Harry Met The Duke at the Metropolitan Room on Sunday, January 27, Wednesday, January 30, and Friday, February 22 all at 7pm. The Metropolitan Room is on 34 West 22nd Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues). Call 212-206-0440 for reservations.