Emily Ellet

March 4, 2018 | By | Add a Comment

Last summer I attended the final round of the MetroStar Talent Challenge at the Metropolitan Room, where I immediately found myself rooting for young singer Emily Ellet. She was someone I’d never previously heard—or heard of—but I was taken with the clarity of her voice, her concentration, her respect for (and ease with) lyrics, and her ability to take command of the stage. And then, I was floored when she shook the room with an unlikely but brilliantly funny pairing of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” and Paul Jabara and Paul Shaffer’s “It’s Raining Men.” On top of all her other impressive attributes, Ellet proved herself willing to take a gamble when the stakes were high. (It paid off. That night she was named the MetroStar champ for 2017.)

Uncharted, her recent show at Don’t Tell Mama, confirmed the notion that she’s a talent to be reckoned with. Directed by Stearns Matthews and with musical direction by Jeff Cubeta (also on piano), it saw her performing an eclectic array of musical genres, and showcasing a voice with a pure, penetrating quality. It’s a voice that can swoop up to a seismic belt at times (for instance, during Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire’s “Patterns”) or take on a fluttering, operetta-like quality (Jerry Herman’s “I Belong Here”).

Ellet’s attitude towards between-song patter seemed to be spare is best, and the approach worked well for her. She told only a few personal anecdotes, which led tidily into the songs that followed. Nevertheless, she established a firm connection with her listeners, giving us the sense that we were, perhaps, already acquainted somehow.

Her gift for comedy was on display. She reprised the “Raining Men” mash-up—and it was as good as or better than her turn at the MetroStar competition. When she first noticed the strange meteorological phenomenon described by Jabara and Shaffer, she was perplexed and a little alarmed. But within a chorus or two, she’d decided to relax and enjoy the drenching. After several measures, the song picked up its customary disco tempo, and her voice soared with the pure, campy fun of the thing. Another humorous bit—a musical valentine to a particular comfort food—didn’t pack the same comedic punch, but it was cute, and she (and her audience) seemed to enjoy the innocuous corniness of it.

Several of Ellet’s selections were songs only occasionally heard in cabaret rooms—namely, numbers made famous by such contemporary pop divas as Miley Cyrus, Mariah Carey, and Katy Perry. Certainly she made their anthems of youthful yearning, stewing, and striving sound fresh and clean, but I wished she had, instead, included more songs with melodic surprise and lyrical sophistication and wit about them. I’d especially suggest that she rethink her opening salvo, in which she paired the Cyrus number, “The Climb” (Jessi Alexander, Jon Mabe), with Sara Bareilles’s “Uncharted.” She sang the numbers well, but they went on too long, in a prolonged spirit of earnestness. Ellet is more than capable of wowing us, and she should have started with a wow number. She certainly made hairs stand on end with her last song of the evening (not counting the encore): a brisk and rousing “On the Other Side of the Tracks” (Carolyn Leigh, Cy Coleman).

Cubeta and his fellow musicians—drummer Robin MacMillan and guitarist/bassist Brian Ward (who, it was revealed late in the show, is Ellet’s brother)—provided great onstage support. They seemed sensitive to her needs from moment to moment. And their backup-vocal contributions, especially Cubeta’s plaintive falsetto notes, were an added bonus.

My reservations about portions of her song list aside, Ellet delivered the goods in what was her first full New York show. I trust we’ll have plenty of chances to hear more from her in seasons to come. I plan to be there.

Uncharted
Don’t Tell Mama  –  February 22 – 25

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. His features and reviews have appeared in such publications as American Theatre and Back Stage and on BistroAwards.com. As a dramaturg he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival. His stage adaptation of Henry James's novel The Tragic Muse was part of the Gilded Stage Festival at the Metropolitan Playhouse in January 2014.

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