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Album Review:  Debut Album reIMAGINE Deftly Introduces Ann Kittredge To The Recording Industry

Album Review: Debut Album reIMAGINE Deftly Introduces Ann Kittredge To The Recording Industry

Cabaret artist Ann Kittredge is now a recording artist, and she has arrived with an arsenal.

Imagine: you're a musical theater actress with a penchant for storytelling - not storytelling the way that every actor gets into their work - you're an actress with a real knack for making even the tiniest answer to the question "How was your day?" into a voyage of purest wonder. Imagine: after years of telling stories on the stage and in front of the camera, but stories other people have written, you are ready to begin crafting stories of your own. Imagine: you go into cabaret and you win the industry's top prize for your debut show. Imagine: you're up to your neck in successful appearances of a new cabaret play that everyone is loving, and a pandemic stops your momentum, in a snap. What do you do?

Use your imagination.

Ann Kittredge used her time in quarantine to create a virtual television series that played on YouTube, and then she wrote a new show that captured rave reviews, and, now, Ann Kittredge has released her first ever solo album, titled reIMAGINE. It looks like Ann Kittredge's imagination is one that is in perpetual motion.

reIMAGINE is a thirteen-song, forty-three minute exploration into music so varied as to appear like a scatter-shot of selection, and Ann Kittredge has done right by her composers and by her craft by seeing to it that each and every one of those thirteen stories is treated with the respect it deserves, the respect best created by an artist with an investment in storytelling. Here's the sixty-four-thousand dollar question though: what happens when an actress and a live entertainer takes their storytelling skills into the recording studio? Does the loss of the visual aspect of their craft detract from the stories being told? Seeing an Ann Kittredge show (or even an Ann Kittredge solo in a group show) is an event. Ms. Kittredge brings all the parts of herself to her work - this is not a case of a singer with training standing before a microphone and perfectly performing the notes on the page. When Ann Kittredge is engaged in the act of singing, she is EN GAGED. Ann's use of facial expressions, physicality, and wardrobe are a factor in every performance she gives. There are emotional layers to a Kittredge performance that have been mapped out and planned and explored, as she delves into the subtextual meanings of songs and the thought processes of the characters she portrays. Once inside of the recording booth, where nobody sees all of the aspects of the acting, does the storytelling read?

But of course.

For the album reIMAGINE, Ms. Kittredge has gathered around her a crackerjack team of collaborators, helmed by record producer Paul Rolnick and including three different musical directors to assist her in re-inventing these songs in the manner that, best, tells the story that resonates within the walls of her heart. Christopher Denny, Wendy Bobbitt Cavett, and Alex Rybeck have each contributed mightily to the album with their individual contributions (there are credits in the liner notes for arrangements by, still, other artists) but there can be no mistaking that these artists of profound talents took their cue from Kittredge. Curating her journey of reinvention to include the works of radio stars like Jim Croce and Natasha Bedingfield and, then, scattering them throughout a program culled from musical theater, movies both classic and modern-day, and numbers from her own cabaret shows, what Ann Kittredge has created on her disc is a digital cabaret show. Wonderfully theatrical and audibly engaging, every moment of the album plays like a live show recording, with Ann leaving no stone unearthed, in her quest for quality storytelling.

Observe the application of Ann's theater training on both of the pop songs, one of which opens the album and one that is, essentially, her finale (with an encore to follow). With respect to Ms. Bedingfield and Mr. Croce, it is difficult to believe that any performer has ever found the layers in their songs that Kittredge has discovered here. Ann devours "Unwritten" with the emotional intensity of a virtuosa preaching from a pulpit with an electric guitar, announcing to the listener that the artistic journey in store for them isn't just a random CD play, that it will, best, be enjoyed with a little active listening. Note the savvy choice to follow up that bold Bedingfield opening with the tenderest, quietest, treatment of "Before I Gaze At You Again" on record (and if those first guitar strums don't say "Sean Harkness" loud and clear, then you just don't know). This is an album with all the dramatic levels planned out - just like a play, cabaret or otherwise - and Kleinbort and Rolnick have facilitated every step of the Kittredge storytelling journey, as any prudent director and producer should.

In this debut recording, Ann Kittredge has captured the many facets of her acting capabilities, with strong musical monologues from Jerry Herman, duets by Rodgers & Hammerstein, and a remarkable Irving Berlin segment destined to provide all the feels available, but there is particular resonance in an Ahrens & Flaherty mash-up from Ann's tribute show to the Tony-winning musical theater team. Although the inventive and unique arrangement combining "Make Them Hear You" and "Keep On Standing" stands on its own as a musical treatment, although it provides Kittredge with exciting acting moments that, clearly, resonate with her as a storyteller, when one listens to the track being performed by this strong, empowered woman living in today's political climate where the rights of women are being threatened on a nation-wide level, the medley becomes an anthem for women across this country. It is impossible to not be moved to hot, stinging tears, a clenched jaw, and the urge to fight for what is right. Even though the arrangement and recording pre-date the latest machinations to come out of Washington D.C., the existence of this recording, at this time, is both important and valuable.

Whether being weighed as a debut solo album or one in a collection of albums, reIMAGINE is an impressive feat, proving that it truly does take a village (the credits feature so many names that reading them is, at times, actually a little overwhelming), and Ann Kittredge has made sure to surround herself with a team of people who share her artistic vision, and who support that vision. Speaking frankly, I don't love the album art: every photo that comes out of Camp Kittredge looks like a magazine cover with Ann being presented as the most glamorous and beautiful of cover models. To take photos of that face and tint them pink, purple, and beige feels like an error in judgment, but in these days of digital downloads, perhaps packaging doesn't have the importance that it did when Carly Simon and Barbra Streisand were responsible for the best album covers in the business. Maybe what matters in the year 2022 is the quality of the musical production and the storytelling, and, here, that quality is of the highest - one has only to listen to the "Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life" track (this writer's favorite on the album) to recognize that Ann Kittredge has successfully transitioned from the nightclub stage to the recording studio with all the storytelling tools needed to become a fine recording artist.

But there isn't much imagination needed to make that leap.

Ann Kittredge reIMAGINE is a 2022 release produced by Zevely Records and distributed on the King Kozmo Music, a subsidiary of Jazzheads, Inc. label. It is available on all digital platforms.

Visit the Ann Kittredge website HERE.

Ann Kittredge returns to the Laurie Beechman Theatre with her reIMAGINE show on October 23rd at 7 pm, and Ann will make her Cabaret Convention debut on October 26th.

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