BWW Review: Rosemary Loar Justifies 'Greatest Hits' Status for Her 2006 QUANDO SWING With Powerful Revival At The Metropolitan Room

Rosemary Loar swung big time during revival of
her 2006 show "The Quando Swing" with
Musical Director Frank Ponzio (left),
Saadi Zain on bass, and Vito Lesczak on percussion.

I didn't catch Rosemary Loar's original 2006 presentation of Quando Swing, but I can't imagine it performed with more muscular honesty than it was Wednesday night at the Metropolitan Room in the latest monthly installment of Producer Stephen Hanks' New York Cabaret's Greatest Hits series. We've come to expect lucid, intriguing shows from the vocalist, but engagement level on this occasion felt almost cathartic. Energy was full tilt, lyric communication authentic.

A terrific rendition "Prelude To a Kiss," the beginning of Loar's love affair with Duke Ellington, arrived enraptured, with elongated "s" and undulating octaves as if bowed like Saadi Zain's bass. Musical Director Frank Ponzio stroked piano keys. Percussionist Vito Lesczak circled with brushes. The room grew hushed.

Then, whomp! Ain't got the change of a nickel/Ain't got no bounce in my shoes/Ain't got no fancy to tickle/"Ain't Got Nothin But the Blues" (Duke Ellington/Don George). Loar apparently understands this kind of song at its core. Delivery is rough, deep, absorbing. Eyes close, head tilts, an arm bends up then ratchets down with slight body bounce. The vocal is squeezed out, tearing at her; it stretches, slaps, spits. A bump-n-grind instrumental carries us to abort.

"The Quando Swing" (Puccini/Duke Ellington/Rosemary Loar) ricochets back and forth from hot jive to exaggerated aria. Scat is raw, sharp edged staccato, focus comprehensive. "Remember" . . . that you did it first with me (Carole Nelson/ Maria Walsh--the group, Zrazy) is a mid-tempo torch song, miserable and bitter. Terrific lyrics are well served. Even during an instrumental break, Loar appears possessed. Hints of sob in her vocal are kept in check, yet afterwards the artist turns her back on us and discretely dabs her eyes. This one was personal.

Of the original songs Loar included in the show, two are successful--"Ice Cream" and her most recent composition "Harmless Little Sin." The first, enhanced by fine acting, is a lascivious, double-entendre piece about ice cream. Few others could deliver a line like there's something extra about your texture and make it sizzle. Leaning back against the piano in her long, red, velvet gown, the performer works this in spades. The second, a 1950s jazz-feel number, wriggles in on Latin rhythm propelled by sexy drum work. Barely moving but for shoulder and head tilt, the provocative Loar once again raises room temperature. Unexpected octave changes cause arresting frisson.

The highlight of the evening is Frank Ponzio's trenchant, imaginative arrangement of "Cold" (Annie Lennox). We begin with understated piano, bowed bass, patted drum and shivering cymbal. Vocal arrives pained, yet satiny. Eyes close, one arm floats, palm up. It's a visceral, in-tune wail, advancing and retreating. Music gradually swells becoming lush. Feels like standing under a waterfall of sound. Then, aria da capo, piano drops back, bass thrums, drum tiptoes out (leaving footprints), vocal echoes. From the inside out, Loar stakes a worthy claim on the material.

I had trouble with the jerky, irrational medley devoted to about a dozen songs relating to "windows," and "One O'Clock Jump" (Count Basie/John Hendricks), both of which seemed lowbrow and histrionic rather than amusing.

An encore of "When You Wish Upon a Star" (Ned Washington/Leigh Harline), another iconoclastic arrangement, ends the evening with its singer laid bare. Again, against the odds, Loar manages to make an iconic song intimate.

Rosemary Loar is an actress and writer as well as a vocalist. She imbues interpretation with intelligence and character. A wellspring of emotion is channeled. She puts her own stamp on skilled scat and iconoclastic phrasing. Don't look for every pristine note here. The lady offers immersive performance, which, all considered, is preferable. This is a powerful show.

The next two installments of New York Cabaret's Greatest Hits at the Metropolitan Room (Stephen Hanks, Producer; Fr. Jeffrey Hamblin, MD, Associate Producer) feature Laurie Krauz and her long-time musical director Daryl Kojak celebrating their 25-year collaboration in song (May 13 at 7 pm), and Barbara Porteus performing her 2013 show Up On The Roof (June 13 at 7 pm).

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From This Author Alix Cohen

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