Livestream Review: “Anything Goes! Cole Porter and More Cole Porter!”

July 19, 2022 | By

Deborah Grace Winer

The various Songbook Series at Jazz at Lincoln Center comprise one of the crown jewels of New York cabaret and jazz entertainment.  The latest offering was a tribute to an iconic master of American song filled with familiar, perhaps too familiar, songs presented by three vocalists and a fine quartet of jazz musicians.  Anything Goes! Cole Porter and More Cole Porter! was curated and hosted by Deborah Grace Winer at one of the JALC premier showcases, Dizzy’s Club. Winer’s introductions offered information for those not familiar with the details of Porter’s life, but her attempts at humor usually fizzled; she wisely kept her spoken contributions tight and short. 

Christine Andreas

The evening opened in high style with the exquisite Christine Andreas adding some pleasing jazz inflections to her Broadway and cabaret artistry for a beautifully done “Just One of Those Things.” It began with an exciting burst of energy by Andreas as each musician joined in before it all slowed down a bit for an interpolated verse, followed by a blazing piano solo by pianist/music director Joe Davidian, and a searing alto sax solo by Zoe Obadia. The singer slid right in, obviously loving it.  Then came Allison Blackwell, whose impressive voice has been heard on Broadway and major regional productions. Her “Night and Day” was tonally beautiful but failed to touch on the obsession that simmers just below the surface of this classic love song. She has a huge, gorgeous voice which she used broadly when I would love to have heard some personal investment in the well-worn words. 

The third and final cast member was Robbie Lee who, according to Winer’s introduction, is a regular at Songbook Sundays. His first number was “Delovely,” and while his smooth, striking voice was immediately pleasing, he just missed the pocket in his initial “conversation” with bassist Russell Hall, drummer Evan Sherman, and Davidian. When Obadia took centerstage for a madly energetic solo, all was right with the world, but when Lee returned it was with a scat chorus that seemed learned and stiff rather than organic and free, things faltered. His delivery of the song throughout was pleasingly smooth but lacked the insouciance embodied in the lyrics. It was all about sound and not about story. 

Blackwell’s extraordinarily beautiful instrument swooningly caressed the melody of “In the Still of the Night,” but her performance would have benefited from a more conversational tone. She had already impressed with her voice and tone, and she reduced the song to more of the same. Davidian was particularly expressive on piano in a lovely arrangement. Andreas captured every bit of sly, sardonic seduction in “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” bringing every one of Porters risqué and funny words to sparkling life, ending with an echo of Cleo Laine and worthy of the comparison. Lee returned with a serviceable “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” in which he fell into the traditional trap of portentous delivery of a song with an inherent lightness and romance if one pays attention to the story. It is not a tragic song; it isn’t “say goodbye and the world ends.” As the title says, it’s every time— as in goodbye for the night or for a brief separation, an everyday occurrence but no less romantic for its lack of momentousness. 

An instrumental (“You’d Be So) Easy to Love” allowed the quartet to shine individually and collectively. Their solid, jazzy attack was miles away from Jimmy Stewart’s tentative introductory performance of the classic in Born to Dance, and its energy and joy was easy to get lost in. “True Love” from High Society has never been a favorite of mine but Andreas’s stunning, heartfelt performance of it was the high point of the show. Acted with a quiet, piercing intensity and filled with simplicity, passion, and understatement, it was a performance that will stay with me and made me rethink my feelings about the song.

In both arrangement and Lee’s vocal, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” went the clichéd lounge lizard route of Michael Bublé and others; Lee seemed even more out of his element in this style. As in “Night and Day,” the obsession that fills the lyrics was lost in the swagger. In an awkwardly delivered coda, a Sinatra-smarmy adlib proclaimed, “You grabbed me under my skin” which was particularly egregious in a tribute to an iconic lyricist and conjured Trumpian quotes of the past. An over-arranged, over-sung “I Get a Kick Out of You” was a disappointing final song for Blackwell and the show that buried the wit and brilliance of the lyrics and deprived the audience once again of appreciating more than commanding vocal power in the singer. It ultimately proved an empty climax to the evening. 

“Let’s Do It,” the encore with all three singers, was so inevitable that it almost needn’t have been sung. With the enormous catalogue of songs at Winer’s disposal I wish that she had made an effort to include one or two rarities, but I don’t think the show was directed at me. I used to describe certain shows and performers as “PBS ready” in their homogeneity and lack of imagination and desire to not ruffle feathers.  This was one of those times except (and it is a huge except) for the brilliance of Christine Andreas who was consistently involving, surprising and riveting. Brava to the show-saver. 

***

Presented at Dizzy’s Club on July 17, 2022. Songbook Sundays continues in the Fall celebrating various songwriters.

Category: News / Reviews / Commentary, Reviews

About the Author ()

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”

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