BWW Reviews: Film & TV Actor GLORIA REUBEN Also Conquers Cabaret With Her Seductive CD Release Show at the Metropolitan Room
You probably know Gloria Reuben from the 1990s TV medical drama ER (in which she played Jeanie Boulet, an HIV-positive physician assistant on the hospital's staff). Or you may know her from playing the slave Elizabeth Keckley in the Steven Spielberg movie Lincoln. Or if you are super-cultured, you may know that she played Condoleeza Rice in David Hare's play, Stuff Happens. But I bet you didn't know that in 2000, she was one of Tina Turner's back up singers or that she began playing classical piano at age 5. But you should have known that Reuben sang at the Metropolitan Room last Thursday night to celebrate the release of her forthcoming CD, the jazzy Perchance to Dream. I was there, so I now know that Gloria Reuben is not only an accomplished actor, but also a refined musician and an ethereal singer.
Played onto the stage by her marvelous band swinging on Benny Goodman's "5 Spot After Dark," Reuben alighted on stage wearing a strapless, sweetheart neckline red gown that could have easily landed her on an Oscar night best dressed list. The sublime rhythm section created a light, groovy bounce for Reuben's first song, Irving Berlin's "Change Partners." Steve Smith on bass locked in with Tim Horner on the drums. When guitarist Marty Ashby and pianist Michael King joined in with Reuben, the symbiosis between them all flowed. Reuben swayed, losing herself in the music and singing with an understated elegance. She had nothing to prove, just connections to make with her band, with the music, with the song. Vocally, she was one of the instruments, sometimes almost too low in the mix.
Reuben likened her album launch to a wedding. Aside from the dress and the caterers, the record took a long time to create, and she and the band became very close during the creative process. We could feel the love emanating from the stage. Most of the evening's songs came from the CD, including two original tunes. The first was the haunting "Poor Girl," a song using a Maya Angelou poem for lyrics with music by Marty Ashby's brother Jay (the trombone player on the album). Reuben's soulfully deep brown eyes searched the room as she wistfully chanted the mantra-like lyric "Poor girl/just like me. Poor girl/just like me." The second original, "When I Close My Eyes," was a song written expressly for her. "How great is that!" Reuben beamed. "I mean that in the most humble way." Again the rhythm section shimmered, with Horner using brushes and mallets to create a luscious wash, and Smith taking the spotlight for a warm bass solo.
The one song that did not come from this new recording was "Angel Eyes," a duet between Reuben and her guitarist Ashby. "I love it so much," Reuben confided, overcome with emotion for the tune. Their rendition had an end-of-the-night feel; nuanced, vulnerable and spacious. Suddenly 8 pm felt decadent and steamy.
Other tunes from the new CD included a dreamy version of "Pure Imagination," a sexy Latin-tinged "Close Enough For Love," and a spare, moody "Sharing the Night with the Blues." During the pop-like tune "Save Your Love for Me," we were treated to the young pianist Michael King's gifted jazzy flair during his biggest solo of the night. All through the set my companions and I looked at each other, mouthing, "This band is amazing!"
For Reuben's encore, the band departed and she took the stage alone. Sitting at the piano, she was a bit startled to realize how much leg she was showing, then in a surprisingly deep, rich timbre she sang "Here's to Life," as if her fingers on the piano keys unlocked a seductive vocal power. It was a magical moment.
As a show, Perchance to Dream was a welcome contrast to so many cabaret performances that, charming as they may be, can tend toward flamboyant, even garish territory, with the performer sometimes going over the top. Reuben, on the other hand, knows how to intoxicate with just a droplet of the necessary spirits. You too can enter the dreamscape with Reuben and her band at the Metropolitan Room this Friday night and on April 30, both shows at 9:30 pm. With a taste of Reuben's sonic elixir, you will be reawakened to the magic of music and cabaret. And you will experience a star you thought you knew in a new light.