BWW Review: VALERIE LEMON Sings The Jane Froman Songbook At The Laurie Beechman & Teaches Us About A Legend From The Past
Heigh-Ho Friends & "Family"! Bobby Patrick your RAINBOW Reviewer here. Putting the silent T in CABARET to bring you all the T.
If you're like we are my darlings, you wake up many-a-morn with one question running around your rainbow brain, "Who the hell was Jane Froman?" right my loves? Well, we recently checked that question off our burning-to-know-list by attending Valerie Lemon's 2 PM cabaret, The Jane Froman Songbook: A Song In My Heart, at the Laurie Beechman on Sunday. Now to say we had NO knowledge of Jane Froman beforehand would be misleading. We know there was a Jane Froman who had been a BIG big-band-era singer to whom enough bad things had happened that they made a movie about her starring the luminous & Oscar-nominated, Susan Hayward. Because, back when, if you were a woman to whom bad things happened, that's who played you in the movie and got an Oscar nomination... Susan-I WANT TO LIVE-Hayward. But truly, Froman knowledge stops there for Bobby.
Not having taken the time to pre-research before the show, we went to the Beechman ready to absorb the music, performance and any tidbits of history that were on offer. Lemon's press packet, however, was comprehensive (THANK YOU, VALERIE!!) and an early arrival allowed time to peruse it all and be prepared for the performance. The most interesting story offered, in the packet and in the show, was Lemon's own about how, in recovery for emergency surgery and on many pain meds, she had a dream in which Froman appeared and introduced herself. To her conscious knowledge, Valerie had never heard of Froman or knew anything about her. Now, Sigmund Jung (that's his name right?) might have one or two things to say about that claim, but the workings of Lemon's unconscious are her affair. At any rate, after her dream, she dragged her recovering body to a computer for a google search and found the face of the woman in her dream looking back at her, and the die was cast. Lemon learned that in 1943, on a USO tour entertaining for the boys, Froman's plane crashed into the Tagus River at Lisbon, Portugal. She was one of the few passengers to survive. This owing to a young woman who, fortuitously, had asked Jane to switch seats with her shortly before the crash. Although severely injured, she was rescued by the co-pilot of the plane, John Curtis Burn who swam them both to shore even though his own back was broken. Burn went on to become #2 of Jane's 3 husbands. Through a slow and arduous (What? Bobby Knows Words!?) recovery process, Froman was able to persevere, though her injuries would cause her life long pain, the need for a leg brace and, ultimately, would play into her death at 72.
This brings us to the Beechamn on a Sunday afternoon where we were to hear such perennial American Songbook faves as; Embraceable You, Summertime, Blue Moon, and of course, Froman's signature tune, With A Song In My Heart. Lemon, an exceptionally lovely lady, took the stage in a gorgeous, satin, night blue ball gown with star-like crystal accents, full opera gloves, and diamond accessories; quite pretty on all counts and hinting at her legit opera training with Met star Hakan Hagegard (see, Bobby DID read her press packet). As she began singing, this opera training showed through with a fine soprano. Now my lovelies, if you were to ask Alexa to shuffle up some Jane Froman for you to listen to (and we suggest you do) you would hear a lovely, legit sounding, mezzo with a full rich range that deepened with the years and that reveled in her solid lower register. Froman was not swing, and she was not jazz; she sang pretty and even her up-tempo songs were crystalline and straightforward. Lemon's operatic past, shows best in her performance when she sings in her upper register and Bobby was left to wonder, since she told the audience outright that she was not imitating Froman but tributing her, why her music was not re-voiced to higher keys to make the best of what Lemon does best; be a soprano. In the songs requiring an open chest voice, such as Froman's, Lemon falls a little short and some strain here and there was evident. During her class on Froman, Valerie presented all of the facts about Jane that were printed in her press packet in a way that showed she had a script she had memorized and was sticking to. On one or two occasions where she seemed to deviate from that script in a charming off-hand way, she landed some laughs and left your rainbow boy with the hope that there would be more such "just talking to us" moments about herself and how she came to her love of Froman's oeuvre. (What?! Bobby knows French words!) Overall the feeling was that of a musical Ted Talk about the career of a woman who should not be forgotten, but sadly, mostly is.
With fine support given her by Musical Director, Phil Hoff and Bass Player Mary Ann McSweeney, Lemon moved charmingly and easily from hit song to hit song giving us the history of Froman's career, life, faith, and the perseverance that her faith instilled in her in the face of life-threatening adversity. Valerie's love of her subject and the care she gave each tune in her program are what put her show over for her audience. Clearly, her talents, which are considerable, along with her sense of devotion to the art of cabaret and, in this case, to Froman are the reasons to see Lemon present this program.
Should we care about Jane Froman, if you're 50+ you can if you want. If you're 70+ You probably do. Did Valerie Lemon's program of 25 hit songs from days gone by make us care? To be honest, only a little, BUT Lemon is a very pretty lady who sang very pretty and her audience of those who do care, did care. A lot. And for caring so much, we give Lemon 2 ½ Rainbows out of 5.