BWW Review: AN EVENING WITH...SERIES: SHIRLEY BASSEY at The Green Room 42 Is A Master Class in Storytelling
Great news, everyone! An Evening With... Series has been picked up at The Green Room 42 for a third season! Next year they will be doing Frank Sinatra in January, Dolly Parton in March, Rosemary Clooney in May, Nina Simone in July, Julie Andrews in October and Judy Garland in December. And though this writer has only just seen his very first installment of the popular series, you can be sure I will be at every single one of those future performances.
An Evening With... Series is a WONDERFUL idea created by Blake Allen, who does the curating, the arrangements, the orchestrations, and the transcriptions, and he does it all with remarkable, indeed breathtaking, talent. He has chosen to showcase the works of great artists, to keep their music alive, to pay tribute to them; and the series has put a spotlight on Peggy Lee, Doris Day, Eartha Kitt, Della Reese, The Sherman Brothers, Nat 'King' and Natalie Cole, and Dionne Warwick. The series has a permanent company of performers who appear in the shows - at last night's Shirley Bassey Evening, the singers of the company were James Crichton, Emily Croft, Josh Daniel, Christine de Frece, Kristina Nicole Miller, Jack Scott, Emily Trumble,and Jordan Tyson and every single one of them sang like a superstar. For each new installment Mr. Allen invites members of the Broadway and cabaret communities to join the company onstage as guest artists, singing one number by the singer or songwriter upon whose work they are focused, and throughout the evening Blake Allen reads some interesting, fascinating, and humorous trivia (assuming all of the shows take the same format of the Shirley Bassey show last night) and that is a lot of fun, especially when learning something you didn't know about the artist you've always loved. It all makes for an extremely entertaining evening, an evening that can be recommended, strongly, especially to audiences with an affinity for the artist on the bill.
Let this article go no further without it being said that there are 12 musicians on the stage at The Green Room 42, making this the most lush evening of music in a cabaret room because, with all the respect and admiration for all of the instrumental artists working on the nightclub stages, the sound of 12 instruments in one room is special. At last night's Shirley Bassey show the musicians were Robert Guilford (drums), Magda Kress (bass), Jared Newlan, Amy Griffith (reeds), John Gattis (horn), Jami Dauber, Kurt Marcum (trumpet), Michael Wyson (trombone), Sienna Peck (violin) Harper Randolph (viola) Lydia Paulos (cello) with Mr. Allen on piano. Astounding music from these musicians washing over you for 70 minutes is an experience worth mentioning.
Then we add the singers.
Each and every singing artist in last night's An Evening With... Shirley Bassey is a singer worthy of acclaim. With voices that blow the mind and send shivers down the spine, it is easy to get swept away by the exposure to sounds so glorious. Whether members of the AEWS Company or guest artists like Dee Roscioli or Elijah Caldwell, an audience member can be assured that the singing of the songs will be a more than satisfactory reason for the evening. If one is lucky the guests at the performance will be blessed by the likes of Marti Gould Cummings, who is funny as a rubber crutch on a banana peel, or Anita Welch, who can do as much storytelling with one raised eyebrow as she can with her expressively powerful voice. Perhaps the audience at next year's Frank Sinatra Evening will include the dreamy Hernando Umana or the riveting Joseph C. Townsend, whose emotional commitment to their story is matched only by their vocal prowess with their song. The audience at any An Evening With.. show will win the nightclub lottery if their cast features devastating Dawn Derow or volcanic Blaine Krauss, the piledrivers who brought down the house at last night's presentation, and this writer's personal highlights of the show. There can be no shortage of superlatives to describe the degree of superiority in singing that the cast of the Shirley Bassey show brought out last night. And it is such a feat, putting together a brand new tribute show six times a year. For each of these singers to learn one new song and arrive to perform that one new song (ok, in some cases, two) in this group show presented every other month is admirable. It makes one wonder how Natalie Douglas does ten tribute shows a year without a music stand off of which to read her lyrics.
In 2019, Natalie Douglas has been at Birdland performing her 90 minute tribute shows to Barbra Streisand, Roberta Flack, Judy Garland, Joni Mitchell, Nancy Wilson... ten shows in 2019. That amounts to one 90 minute show every 36 days. At not one show did Ms. Douglas read her lyrics off of a music stand. Because Natalie Douglas knows how important the relationship is between the audience and the singer. Natalie Douglas knows that the key to communicating the story of the song is to be able to be in the song, to be in the story, to be with the moment, which a singing storyteller cannot do if they are worried about the lyrics to their song. Ms. Douglas respects her audience, she respects the writers of the songs, and she respects the stories the writers are telling in their songs enough to learn the words to the songs before she goes out on the stage. Natalie Douglas knows that there is more to live musical storytelling than the voice used to tell the story -- without utilizing all of components required for cabaret performing, a person is a studio singer, and should be in a booth with the microphone and their music stand.
Ten times a year, Natalie Douglas learns an epic set of songs and goes out and sings those songs without a music stand off of which to read the lyrics to the songs.
Now, dear readers, and dear singers, I would like to use visual aids to illustrate something about the relationship between the audience and the singer, from the audience point of view.
This is the relationship between an audience and singers who know their lyrics:
Hernando Umana singing Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Blaine Krauss singing I Am What I Am
Joseph C. Townsend singing Pieces of Dreams
Dawn Derow singing Light My Fire
Elijah Caldwell singing Let Me Sing and I'm Happy
Anita Welch singing With These Hands
James Crichton playing the piano and singing After the Rain.
This is the relationship between an audience and singers who do not know lyrics to their song:
Jordan Tyson singing Moonraker.
Christine de Frece singing Danger Diamonds
Emily Trumble singing Goldfinger
Kristina Nicole Miller singing Liquidator.
Dee Roscioli singing As Long As He Needs Me.
Emily Croft singing Where Do I Begin/Love Story.
Josh Daniel singing I (Who Have Nothing).
Jack Scott singing Apartment.
Marti Gould Cummings singing Kiss Me Honey Honey.
Now, dear reader: Which brand of musical storytelling do you find more interesting?
So... Which story did you find more interesting?
And which storyteller would you rather be?
An Evening With... Series begins again in 2020. For information and tickets please visit their Website
For information and tickets to all shows at The Green Room 42 please visit their Website
All photos in this article by Stephen Mosher.