BWW Review: Avery Sommers Rules The Laurie Beechman Theatre with FOR SENTIMENTAL REASONS
It is appropriate that Avery Sommers wears a bejeweled gold headpiece around her upswept hair for her performance of "For Sentimental Reasons" because it looks rather like a crown, and Avery Sommers is showbusiness royalty. It is true that Ms. Sommers is not the most famous woman to tread the boards, but fame is not what makes royalty - style and survival do, tenacity and talent do, originality and individuality do, and these are the royal titles bestowed upon Avery Sommers by some otherworldly being or by Mother Nature herself. In simplest parlance: Avery Sommers is all the damn things.
In town to sing in The Cabaret Convention, Ms. Sommers took a few extra days to accept an invitation to perform her show "For Sentimental Reasons" at The Laurie Beechman Theatre. Once word got out that Avery Sommers was doing an entire show while in town, people began scrambling for tickets. Entering the room, one could spot Leanne Borghesi, Richard Skipper, Marta Sanders, Russ Wooley, many members of the nightclub performing community, even KT Sullivan, all people intent on seeing the force of nature that is Avery Sommers, and when the announcement brought the statuesque beauty to the stage, the ovation was thunderous. The dazzling Sommers was a vision in black and gold, with sparkly flats peeking out from under the floor-length gown, and though the actress of advanced glamour required assistance climbing the steps to the stage, there was nothing indicative of her years once she got to the center spot and the microphone. Avery Sommers was, in fact, on fire.
Hitting on all six cylinders, Ms. Sommers sang for 70 minutes, creating for her audience a marathon of memorable music showcased in medleys that focused on some of Avery's favorite styles of music, including everything as wide-ranging as show music or as specific as a 60s medley or a Neil Sedaka tribute. If those three categories don't adequately illustrate the fact that Avery Sommers can sing anything, perhaps the knowledge that she also covered songs by Miss Ross, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles and T Bone Walker will put the idea over the top. It's true: there ain't nothin' Miss Avery Sommers can't do.
When this treasure of a human being wasn't too busy blowing the audience away with her vocals, she was enthralling them with her stories. The adorable, infectious and irresistible star of Broadway musicals adroitly regaled with tales from her past, about being young and green in NYC, how she got her agent, which celebrity she smacked into getting off the elevator, and what it was like landing the sweet gig as Nell Carter's replacement in Ain't Misbehavin' and, yes, she sang the title song with as much gusto as when she first landed that gig, including a hilarious reference to her age "This is the part where I used to dance.. The operative words being USED TO" and the audience roared with her. It's not that the joke was as funny as her delivery, it was the combination of the two, but that was the general mood of the entire day because every word, every note that Avery Sommers spoke or sang was dipped in and dripping with authentic, professional, show business savvy. A newcomer to the scene need only to see Ms. Sommers' show for a lesson in how to be at home in the spotlight while still providing theatrical entertainment. For Avery Sommers lacked nothing when it came to being larger-than-life for the benefit of The Show, but imparted everything when it came to being so natural as to be a galpal with whom you are having a drink and a dance (a slow one, remember she doesn't dance anymore!). This is why it is so important for the cabaret community to keep these treasures in our lives and on our stages.
There are two types of performer vastly important to the continuation of the art of cabaret - the newcomers and the seasoned. The young people coming into the ranks of the industry are the future; they are reinventing the way cabaret looks, is performed, is presented, and they need mentors and teachers to light the way, to bring the past, the present and the future together as one, while cabaret moves into the future. Those young people look to the masters and mistresses to learn, and thank goodness for the continued work of veterans like Avery Sommers who choose to share their gifts for audiences who still crave their magic, and students who merit their example. And what an example Avery Sommers is.
Avery Sommers is so artistic and essential a performer that she can and will sing songs in ways undreamed of. Her rhythmic phrasing of sentences causes awe struck headshaking, and she often whispers a word, a note, that other singers would instinctively sing big and bold, their voice rattling around in their nasal cavity, while her more subdued choice inspires the audience to lean forward and go to her, which, frankly, is what they want to do anyway. Anyone wishing to see the two sides to the shiny Sommers coin need look no further than the few minutes it takes for her to wistfully whisper "What a Wonderful World," and then hysterically howl "Hallelujah I Just Love Him So." But beware: it's not for the faint at heart. Little about Avery Sommers is for the faint at heart.
If Avery Sommers weren't already the coolest dame to ever hit the stage at The Laurie Beechman Theatre, she would have an Ace in the Hole to make her the coolest. To be exact, she would have three Aces and they are Tom Hubbard on bass, Don Kelly giving the percussion, and Dana P. Rowe on piano and acting as musical director, responsible for the fantastic and precise arrangements that guide Avery but allow her the freedom to go where she wants to in the music, because Miss Sommers is not to be controlled - this voice and this Lady have minds of their own, and when the song wants to go that way, that way it will go. It's a good thing Rowe has his mind in sync with Sommers because this artist and her show are a thrill-a-minute rollercoaster ride of delights, both musical and emotional. And when you get off this ride, yes, you will say: "Can we go again?"
Go again. After all "For Sentimental Reasons" may be the roller coaster ride, but the ride is being driven by Avery Sommers.
That's Queen Avery to you.
Follow Avery Sommers on Instagram @sommersavery
Photos by Stephen Mosher