Carol Woods’s show at The Metropolitan Room, “Ain’t We Got Fun: The Music of Richard Whiting” (directed by Scott Coulter) marked the 125th anniversary of Whiting’s birth. But the show on November 12 was a double celebration, as it was also Woods’s birthday eve. And the singer was in a particularly sassy mood during this performance, which was being recorded for an upcoming live CD.
The link between the composer and the performer here is the late vocalist Margaret Whiting—Richard Whiting’s daughter and Woods’s close friend. This show was, in fact, originally planned purely as a tribute to the younger Whiting. But as Woods embarked on research for the production, she decided to narrow the program to compositions by songwriter Whiting. Early in the evening, she even sang some special musical material (by Norman Sachs and Mel Mandel) that Margaret Whiting had used in her act; it described the daughter’s musical relationship with the father. One further link: Woods’s musical director and pianist for this show was Tex Arnold, who for many years assumed the same duties for Margaret Whiting.
The operative word in the show’s title is “fun.” While there were a few straightforward love ballads sprinkled throughout the set, most selections were bright and upbeat, and many were purely comic. But even if there was not much heavy drama on hand, Woods—who has considerable credits on the Broadway stage—allowed herself plenty of room to shine as a singing actor. Richard Whiting may have trod Hollywood Boulevard and Tin Pan Alley more than he did Shubert Alley, but Woods delivered his songs with a distinctly theatrical flair.
The show got underway with “(I’d Love to Spend) One Hour with You” (lyrics: Leo Robin)—an apt title for the top of a cabaret set. She segued into a lovely, lilting “Breezin’ Along with the Breeze” (written in collaboration with Haven Gillespie and Seymour Simons). I especially enjoyed the locomotive-like syncopation of the song’s arrangement. Following this came the little-known “Got No Time” (Lyrics: Gus Kahn), which saw Woods shrugging a vampy shoulder in time to the swinging beat. The lyric “Got no time to give the president advice” got an audible response from the packed crowd in light of the stunning national election results only a few days earlier.
As I watched Woods perform “My Ideal” (co-composer: Newell Chase; lyrics: Leo Robin), I noted the skill with which she played to every corner of the room. She turned her head far to her left at one point, to direct her voice and attention to someone seated virtually behind her. Throughout the number, her gestures enhanced the mood of the song. Her arms, hands and fingers stretched out into the space before her, as if she were standing before an invisible keyboard, playing graceful arpeggios.
Humorous laments are clearly a Woods specialty. They were represented here by two numbers sung from a disgruntled first-person point of view: “Sittin’ on the Curbstone (Blues)” (again with Gillespie and Simons) and “Somebody’s Wrong” (Lyrics: Raymond B. Egan, Henry I. Marshall). She was especially adventurous and funny on the latter number, which was filled with zany comic details. She pronounced the word “nine” in classic Noo Yawk-ese, let loose with a sinister “Bwah-ha-ha” laugh, and screamed the line “I’m livin’ like a nun!” as though in abject terror.
The show’s 11 o’clock number, “She’s Funny That Way” (“I Got a Woman, Crazy for Me”)—was a rare item from the Whiting catalog, in that the songwriter authored not the melody but rather the lyrics (Neil Moret provided the music). Woods began the number with quiet, open-hearted tenderness. Gradually she became more full-throated, and finally she launched some no-holds-barred belting that invigorated the crowd. (Throughout the evening, she used melisma to good yet restrained effect—never lapsing into self-indulgent vocal embroidery.)
There were plenty of stops and starts throughout the set, due to exigencies of the live recording. But the audience didn’t seem to mind in the least. The nimble Arnold interacted with Woods throughout the evening, contributing to the patter as well as the music. Ably assisting him were Saadi Zain on bass and Steve Singer on drums. For those of us who were there that night, the coming CD will be an especially welcome keepsake.
“Ain’t We Got Fun: The Music of Richard Whiting”
Metropolitan Room – August 1, 8, 29, November 12