Yanna Avis

June 30, 2015 | By | Add a Comment

Yanna AvisIn her recent one-night stand at 54 Below, “Make Some Magic” (a reprise from an appearance there in April), Yanna Avis appeared sleek and stylish. Unfortunately, her show was anything but that. She sang in a throaty voice that at times approached talk-singing, which could work well for the kind of act and venue she seemed to be attempting to replicate: a chanteuse singing in a Parisian boite in the middle of the last century—or at least a New York version of the same. Her full house of fans (one of whom purportedly flew in from France for the occasion) probably expected this smoky cabaret approach. Most of them had to be glad that real cigarette smoke wasn’t part of the atmosphere in this century, yet a certain sense of staleness hung in the air.

Start with Avis’s opening “joke”: the observation that the elegant basement room she and we were in used to be that 1970s den of debauchery, Studio 54. I doubt that most of the audience didn’t already know that, and many of us had heard a similar crack from a slew of performers in this space—and much closer to the room’s opening three years ago. As Avis, a self-described “hopeless romantic,” said, herself, of her set: “the stories are not quite new; you’ve heard them all before.”

Musically, Avis tried to cover a lot of bases in this genre, from “When the World Was Young” (M. Philippe-Gerard, Angela Vannier, English lyric by Johnny Mercer)  through Cole Porter (“C’est Magnifique”) to “Chanson d’Amour “(Wayne Shanklin), to her encore, “Padam, Padam” (Norbert Glanzberg, Henri Contet), an Edith Piaf staple. But Avis’s delivery of most of the songs was perfunctory, almost as if it were enough that she had thought to include them in her act, and she did nothing to re-interpret them or even offer a coherent through line for them, apart, perhaps, from “love,” or should we say amour? (A director might have helped here).

She sang in English and French, in about equal measure, two songs partly in German, including “Mein Lieber Herr” (Chris Michaelessi, Paul and Lana Sebastian), and two either partly or entirely in Spanish: “Sway (Quien Sera)” (Pablo Beltran Ruiz, Norman Gimbel) and Consuelo Velázquez’s “Besame Mucho.” Those multiple languages comprise a neat parlor trick, perhaps, but one destined here to further the sense of a grab bag approach to the material. And then she had the nerve to say, “I wish everyone in this room spoke French.” To what end? A genuine French-born woman, Avis almost came off as a “professional French woman,” flirting with men in the audience like an ingénue. She even used such words as “Ooh-la-la” and “Mon Dieu” in her chat, the latter when she forgot to include her major set piece (“Mon Homme,” by Maurice Yrain, Albert Willemetz, and Jacques Charles) in the order of her set, and had to be audibly reminded by a member of her band to resurrect it. For another song she sat atop the piano and mimed smoking a cigarette. Please.

The topflight backup quartet consisted of Jon Weber on piano, Daniel Glass on drums, Steve Doyle on bass, and—especially—Uri Sharlin on accordion, with memorable solos on “Chanson d’Amour “and Cole Porter’s “You Do Something to Me.” His was the only music on offer all evening that truly took me back to Paris circa 1960-1975.

“Make Some Magic”
54 Below  –  June 18

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Robert Windeler is the author of 17 books, including biographies of Mary Pickford, Julie Andrews, Shirley Temple, and Burt Lancaster. As a West Coast correspondent for The New York Times and Time magazine, he covered movies, television and music, and he was an arts and entertainment critic for National Public Radio. He has contributed to a variety of other publications, including TV Guide, Architectural Digest, The Sondheim Review, and People, for which he wrote 35 cover stories. He is a graduate of Duke University in English literature and holds a masters in journalism from Columbia, where he studied critical writing with Judith Crist. He has been a theatre critic for Back Stage since 1999, writes reviews for BistroAwards.com, and is a member of The Players and the American Theatre Critics Association.

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