Jill’s Jottings — Beverly in Toronto

October 27, 2010

The lovely Jill Leger gives an update on her activities in Toronto and the visit of Beverly Cosham…

My Favorite Week

DC cabaret veteran Beverly Cosham is visiting Toronto as I type this, and I doubt that October in Canada has ever been cooler.

I’ve gotten to see Bev twice this week—last night at a weekly open mic called “Curtains Down” (more on that in a moment) and last Thursday, when Bev was my first DC guest at Jill’s Living Room, a monthly open mic I set up this summer.

First, a word about Jill’s Living Room. It doesn’t take place in my actual living room, but in a rehearsal space at the Second City Training Center in downtown Toronto (which means that sometimes we get the room decorated with huge portrait of John Candy). I designed JLR to be a “safe place” to sing, where people could feel comfortable trying out new material, or even singing a piece twice if the first time wasn’t quite right. For myself, I wanted a safe place to test drive my new songs, as well as a place to where I could get more comfortable actually singing. The jewels in the crown of JLR are the pianists we’ve been able to attract. We’ve had five JLR’s so far and four different pianists, all considered among Toronto’s best. Their experience and warmth go miles toward making anyone who steps up feel in safe hands.

Bev Cosham doesn’t need a safe place to sing, and she’s so good, she probably makes any accompanist feel safe and secure, not the other way around. But she graced my little shindig with her honey voice anyway, bringing her Toronto pal Edie along for good measure. I got to introduce her to musical director and pianist extraordinaire Michael Barber, and together, they made magic out of Michelle Brourman and Karen Gottlieb’s “My Favorite Year,” as well as “Old Love” and “Whoever You Are.”

Now let’s just say the turn-out wasn’t great. Afterward, we went out for drinks, and it was suggested that Bev also hit “Curtains Down,” a public open mic hosted by the gracious and beautiful Jenni Burke. Currently taking place every Monday night in the martini bar at the Pantages Hotel, the night regularly attracts the cream of Canada’s musical-theater crop. It was a perfect opportunity for more people to hear Bev sing. Natch, Lady Cosham was game.

And of course, she dazzled. Jenni gave me the mic to introduce her, and I kind of stammered something about an amazing singer who’s been around and done it all while remaining down-to-earth, genuine, giving and warm. Jenni later put it better when she called Bev “the real deal.”
Bev sang “My Favorite Year,” “Skylark” and an impromptu duet with Jenni of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.” People tend to chat and visit a lot at the Pantages, but they quieted down when Beverly was singing. And many came up to her afterward to pay their respects. I felt pretty proud, and I think Edie did too.

Thanks to Beverly for enhancing my week, for supporting my “living room” and my music, and for making me look good to all my new performer friends up here in Canada.  And thanks to my dearest Robert for always being there and for taking the photos.

Top photo: Jill, Bev and Michael Barber pose with John Candy at the October Jill’s Living Room

Middle: Bev casts a spell on the crowd (and mistress of ceremonies Jenni Burke) at “Curtains Down,” the only place to be in Toronto on a Monday night


Jill’s Jottings: Internet Karaoke

February 10, 2010

Singin’ In The Den: YouTube Karaoke Is a Great Way to Practice AND Discover New Material

When I moved to Toronto, in 2008, I left behind my karaoke machine. By then, the once-gleaming, silver system my brother gave me for Christmas 2001 was a near wreck, its speakers crackly-sounding, its cassette-tape door permanently gaping open, its volume sadly muted.

But I can’t say I’ve missed it too much, because I recently discovered karaoke on the web. Showtune karaoke. This is not only a fantastic way to discover new material, it’s an incredibly fun way to practice. Having started voice lessons last spring, I consider pulling up and singing these songs my reward for making it through the grind of scales and arpeggios.

Like so many pop-culture delights, showtune karaoke can be found on YouTube. And after hours of poking around, I think I can now direct anyone who’s interested to the best that’s out there. For me, it all comes down to three channels, all evidently managed by young ladies, and all offering respectable collections of showtunes, plenty of them appropriate for cabaret. And unlike many, many other channels, these three feature videos of not just the instrumentals, but the lyrics as well, which flash on-screen in time with the music. Angelique, Anna, and Jessica: I’m kind of going a little fangirl. Thanks for all your hard work!

AngelsBwayKaraokes

http://www.youtube.com/user/AngelsBwayKaraokes#p/u

With more than 110 videos and 5,000 subscribers, Angelique’s AngelsBwyKaraokes is the gold standard. Each video features a custom introduction and lyrics that are excellently timed to the instrumentals. Her collection is wildly comprehensive, with selections from “Annie,” “Pippin,” “Spring Awakening,” “Rent,” “Aida,” “Company,” “Chicago,” “Guys and Dolls,” and much more. Her recent addition of “Shy,” from “Once Upon A Mattress,” proves that this girl is full of surprises. Angelique features a different subscriber performing a new song every week, which is a fun way to build the brand and cultivate a following.

Stage Left Karaoke

http://www.youtube.com/user/StageleftKaraoke

Stage Left Karaoke has the best selection of old-school Broadway tunes. Among 16-year-old Anna’s cabaret gems: “The Party’s Over,” “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” “I’ll Know,” “All That Jazz,” “If I Were a Bell,” and “If He Walked Into My Life.” But scroll down and you’ll also see the likes of more modern material such as “Gimme, Gimme,” and “Here I Am.” There’s also a killer “You’ll Never Get Away From Me,” which I enjoy corralling my husband into singing with me.

Each of the more than 60 videos appears to have been downloaded directly from a karaoke music company called Pocket Songs. The upside to this is that the lyrics change color as you sing them, indicating exactly where you are in a song. Also, the key, name of the composer/lyricist, and song duration are shown at the start of each video, which can be helpful. The downside is that Anna’s videos lack a personal touch, which brings me to…

Showtunes Karaoke

http://www.youtube.com/user/ShowtunesKaraoke

Jessica has taken the time to create lovely videos that include not just lyrics but show logos and photos as well. She has even gone into Garage Band and edited some of the music to make each piece work as well as it can in this format. Because they’re so well done, even duets and ensemble pieces are easy to follow. And Cheno fans take note: Lots of “Wicked” here, plus “The Girl in 14G,” one of my personal faves. As of this writing, Jessica had posted only 19 songs, but what’s there is terrific and evidently made with love.


Googling My Ex in Toronto — April 27th

April 13, 2009

Great news from friend-of-this-blog (and dear friend) Jill Leger:

“Googling My Ex (And Other Obsessions)” is a new musical revue about growing up Generation X and surviving life and love in the 21st century. With original music and lyrics by Toronto songstress Jill Léger, it will be performed Monday, April 27, 2009, 8pm, at The Cabaret@Statlers in Toronto.

The talented cast of performers includes Michelle Langille, Jeigh Madjus and Barb Scheffler. Music direction by Mr. Michael Barber.

Jill Léger comes to Toronto from Washington, DC, where she spent more than a decade working in TV journalism, sharing a 2000 Peabody Award for C-SPAN’s year-long series on the American Presidents and receiving a 2008 Emmy nomination for her documentary work at National Geographic Film and Television. Though Jill is a life-long lyricist and lover of wordplay, she didn’t begin writing music
until 2004, when she became fascinated with the life and career of silent-film comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. Eager to celebrate his lost talent and restore luster to his unfairly tarnished name, she began work on what would become “Call Me Fatty!” a full-length musical about Arbuckle’s life. In the process, she was introduced to DC’s vibrant cabaret and theater community and became hooked on
writing music.

Inspired by everyone from Tom Lehrer to Cole Porter to Cy Coleman to Georgia Stitt, Jill enjoys nothing more than working on music in the apartment office she shares with her wonderful Canadian husband.

“Googling My Ex” performed to sold-out crowds in DC in June 2008. Jill’s music was also featured in “Planet Michael” at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in DC and “The Greatest Holiday Musical Ever” at Don’t Tell Mama in NYC.

April’s show features five new songs and represents her Toronto music debut.

“Googling My Ex (And Other Obsessions)” will be performed at The Cabaret@Statlers, Monday, April 27, at 8pm. Tickets are $15 at the door, but reservations are highly suggested. Email statlersonchurch@live.ca or call 416-962-1209 for reservations. The Cabaret@Statlers is located upstairs at 487 Church Street, near the intersection of Church and Wellesley.


Jill’s Jottings: Come On And Hear! Liza Takes Toronto

April 10, 2009

lizaminnelliTORONTO–Liza came to town Tuesday night, and Toronto lavished her with flowers, standing O’s, gifts, and cheers. I’ve heard Toronto crowds are unusually effusive, but last night’s reception had to be something special. I’ve never attended a show where every single number inspired so many people to their feet.

But it was all deserved. Make no mistake: Liza is back and in many ways better than ever. Yes, her voice cracks at times and can be breathy, but overall it’s rich, and the lady’s got her belt back. And yes, much of the material we’ve heard before, but Liza can make anything feel fresh and new thanks to her singular ability to connect with a crowd. Liza’s always in the moment, never coasting, never bored, always giving and always full of warmth, graciousness and humor. (Liza to an audience member who presented her with a bunch of spring tulips: “Honey! These are expensive! Thank you! But you know, with me all you have to do is show up!”)

And for me, there was another kind of magic last night: the feeling that Liza is a bridge connecting vaudeville and vintage movie musicals (where she’ll always be rooted, thanks to her parents*) to the modern day. Her “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” isn’t an abstract salute to Berlin, it’s the real thing. (And her interpretation brings it charging to life with something so real you can almost imagine what it might have felt like to “want to go to war.”) So’s her “Maybe This Time.”

She had two encores, and could have had 102. The second one (“I’ll Be Seeing You”) she performed acapella, with just one spotlight and the entire crowd standing silently (no coughs!) in the dark. At that point, she’d stashed her shoes on top of the piano and was dressed in glittery “Bob Mackie”-style pants (I want a pair!) and a big black t-shirt with a heart on it. And in that magic moment, she happened to look and sound so much like Judy that you could believe it was Judy if you wanted…which was its whole other thing. There was Liza: Always giving everything she’s got, always herself, always real. I’ve heard that’s how Judy was too on-stage, and I suspect that may have been what helped kill her at such a young age; she gave so much to her craft and to her audiences and maybe not enough to herself. Liza’s come so close to that same fate so many times-and side-stepped that fate so many times-that any performance at all feels like a bit of a miracle. That she happens to be utterly fantastic as well is indeed reason to stand up and cheer.

Here’s the line-up:

  • Teach Me Tonight
  • I’ll Never Leave You Alone
  • If
  • What Makes A Man A Man? (by Charles Aznavour-wow!)
  • I Am My Own Best Friend
  • Maybe This Time
  • He’s Funny That Way
  • Palace Montage
  • Cabaret
  • But The World Goes Round
  • Liza With A “Z”
  • I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby
  • Alexander’s Ragtime Band
  • New York, New York
  • Every Time We Say Good Bye
  • I’ll Be Seeing You
*Note from Michael — She made her movie debut before she was born! If you watch the Garland sequences in ‘Til the Clouds Roll By, they were directed by Vincente Minnelli to disguise his wife’s pregnancy. 

Jill’s Jottings: “Wish”ing on a Star Named Sutton

March 3, 2009

Wish

Jill Leger kindly shares her thoughts on Sutton Foster’s new CD:

Since her Broadway breakthrough in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” I’ve believed that Sutton Foster can do nothing wrong musically. Her debut CD, “Wish,” leaves this sensibility intact with its lovely, wistful musings on love and longing. That it perhaps feels a bit too eclectic at times, mixing intimacy and brass, girlishness with womanhood, Broadway with country, and ukulele strains with lush orchestral accompaniment may be just a minor quibble. There’s a lot going on here, but the common denominator appears to be Foster’s big heart. And heart can make for a satisfying listening experience.

Cabaret gems include a lovely pairing of “My Romance” and Maury Yeston’s “Danglin’,” Jeff Blumenkrantz’s pitch-perfect “My Heart Was Set On You,” Murray Berlin and Roy Alfred’s “The Late, Late Show,” and Noel Coward’s poignant “Come the Wild, Wild Weather.” And there are lots of surprises: a belting flourish to “I’m Beginning To See The Light,” an exuberant (and joke-y) “Oklahoma,” and an incredibly sweet interpretation of “Up On The Roof,” a song I’ve heard a hundred times without ever considering, let alone feeling, its full meaning. And I’m here to say that Sutton Foster belting “On My Way, from the little-known musical “Violet” is absolutely fantastic. I’ve been making do for months with an unfortunately edited snippet of it on YouTube (she sang it at Joe’s Pub in NYC last year) and was delighted finally to hear the whole thing, which did not disappoint.

Only a few cuts didn’t speak to me. Foster’s “Sunshine On My Shoulder” is the most beautiful rendition I’ve ever heard of that song, but I’ve never liked that song much to begin with. And it seems to me as if Foster is too young to sing”Once Upon A Time”; her rendition lacked the pathos an older singer might have lent it.

Ever since Foster won her Tony in 2002, fans like me have anxiously awaited her solo debut album. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait as long for CD number two.


Jills Jottings — Light the Lights!!!

February 1, 2009

I was fortunate to see Jill Leger on my recent trip to Toronto.  Jill was kind enough to send an update from up North…

Hello from Toronto, friends! How I miss the DC cabaret scene and how delighted I am to read about so many new and exciting shows this season. I wish I were there to see them, and I send my DC friends big hugs.

I’ve been busy working on new songs since moving here in September and on Monday had my first Toronto performing experience. I hope what follows in this column entices some of you to visit me here. If you can stand temperatures in the teens and a little salt on your pant cuffs, please come on up! Just be sure you’re here on a Monday night.

Because…it turns out there exists in my new home city a place where every Monday night the cabaret magic happens. You know the magic-the Cole Porter or Jason Robert Brown lyric that melts a moment and unites a crowd in a common understanding of what it means to be alive. Or when a voice soars, taking your spirits on a ride. Or when an unexpected moment gives way to a roomful of laughter and someone’s grace under pressure makes you marvel.

Show-biz veterans Jenni Burke and Michael Barber host this incredible weekly event, called “Curtains Down,” at a swanky-yet-comfortable venue called Statlers Piano Lounge. Jenny has a killer, powerhouse voice that can rock everything from “Tomorrow” to “The Love Boat” theme, and Michael is a musician’s musician, a vocal coach and music director who’s an accompanist extraordinaire. Their warmth and easy skill in combining an evening’s many elements make the water safe to try.

And I was determined to try, though it was daunting. Jenni led last night off with a rip-roaring “Cabaret,” and each of the performers after her followed suit with some blazing new permutation of talent. From Mark Cassius’s “Blame It On My Youth,” to Justin Bott’s terrific “Blue Skies,” to Stephanie Roth’s ineffably amazing “The Girl in 14G,” the performances were fantastic. Naturally, I performed last in the first set, after all these remarkable people, spending two solid hours just trying to breathe and praying I wouldn’t forget my lyrics. As I introduced myself, I felt under-voiced and suddenly so very, very thirsty.

I’m thrilled to say the crowd was warm and lovely-thanks in no small part to the tone set by Jenni and Michael-and it was a real joy to share my songs with such a vibrant, robust, friendly and prodigiously talented community. I sang a new song I wrote called “I’d Be A Blossom Dearie” (a song about the advantages of being an understated spirit, and inspired by WNYC’s Jonathan Schwartz, who once said on-air that he sometimes feels like a “Blossom Dearie in a Shirley Bassey world). And I finished up with “Halfway,” grateful that the dear Rob was smiling at me from a table on the side. He’s the prince who charms.

With the support of Jenni, Michael and other new friends, I hope to make happen in the coming months a Toronto run of my music revue “Googling My Ex (And Other Obsessions).” Statlers has an upstairs room that’s a bit like Indigo-an intimate space for individual acts and small revues. Maybe it’s time to get the prison jumpsuit out of storage. Nothing would thrill me more! Stay tuned!

And come visit!


Jill’s Jottings — Googling My Ex: A Show is Born

June 13, 2008

(I have the great pleasure to be in rehearsal for a show of songs by Jill Leger.  I’ve asked Jill to provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse of her process with the show. — Michael)

Googling My Ex (And Other Obsessions) will be appearing at Playbill Cafe, June 20 and June 21. Words and music by Jill Leger. Music direction and music arrangements by Joshua Rich. Creative consultant: Scott Sedar. Featuring: Emily Leatha Everson, Michael Miyazaki, Barbara Papendorp, Justin Ritchie and Ron Squeri.

I guess you could say work on this show started two years ago this month. A Kurt Vonnegut short story called “Who Am I This Time?” had inspired me to write a song about Turner Classic Movies, and one woman’s delight when her boyfriend starts taking romantic tips from the likes of Cary Grant and William Holden. The song was fun, but what in the world could I do with it?

I’d spent the previous year or so working on a score and demo CD for “Call Me Fatty!” a musical (my first) about the tragic and very human story of silent-film comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. Through that project, I’d tapped into one tiny channel of DC’s crackling arts community, and I began to meet so many truly amazing people–arrangers, vocalists, musicians. My first Roscoe was a college senior from GW, who hardly looked the part but whose heart and humanity were exactly what I was looking for. And someone else had stood out: a singer named Barbara Papendorp, whose act I had caught a few months earlier, and who I just sensed might appreciate a comedy song about romance and old movies.  On a lark, I sent her an email, explaining the song and asking if she’d be willing to help me make a demo recording of it. Within two hours she called back, and a friendship was born.

Barbara not only made a recording of “Thank You, Mr. Turner (For Saving My Romance),” she made the song part of her repertoire. I will never forget hearing her sing it at an Atlas showcase the summer of 2006. It was the first time I’d heard anyone perform my music live, and thank goodness my mom was with me to confirm it was really happening. It was that exciting.

That fall, Barbara took me to my first DC Cabaret Network meeting, introducing me to the community that really helped ignite my creative process. So many super, talented people. So much inspiration.

So I kept writing. I think everyone who is drawn to cabaret knows the thrill when life experience and melody and lyrics intersect to create something that transcends the daily grind and captures something honest about the human condition. That thrill for me is like a drug, whether I’m creating the music myself or listening to the work of someone else.

As the songs accumulated, I began entertaining the idea of putting them together into some kind of showcase. But I didn’t know where to begin. The songs–ballads, comedy songs, ensemble pieces–seemed too disparate to tame into any kind of dramatic narrative. But would a straight showcase work? Anxious to have someone on-board who knew what they were doing, I approached a local writer, director and performer named Scott Sedar, who after hearing my ideas agreed to be my “creative consultant.” It was Scott who suggested what now seems like the obvious plan of attack, but which at the time surprised me: making myself more central to the show’s theme, since I, after all, was the common denominator. Naturally, such a suggestion cued the stomach butterflies, and I suddenly I felt this show thing was going to be way more than I bargained for.

But of course theater only works when it’s girded by what is real and human. And in this case, I was the most logical (and convenient) human. As the show stands today, one image, on-stage throughout act one, says it all : a plastic toy record player not unlike the one I grew up listening to in my bedroom. (Thanks, Scott, for the idea.) It’s no exaggeration to say that all that time spent listening to albums like “Free to Be You and Me” and “Annie” not only helped define my childhood, it helped shape who I am today.

So what’s the show about? Well, it’s about finding love and losing love, it’s about self-expression and the creative process. And OF COURSE it’s about all those exes whose melodies linger long after the songs are over. It’s whimsical in places but also heartfelt and honest, and I hope it says just a little something new about the human condition. I guarantee it will be good for a few laughs.

And I have absolutely the best ensemble of performers, who are making this process so much fun. I’m also blessed to be working with Joshua Rich, who created the arrangements for all the tunes and who is the show’s music director.  Joshua makes everything look so easy and buoys this whole effort with his talent and easy confidence.

Last night, I took a poster to Playbill, which I’d had made at Ritz Camera. It was about twice as big as I thought it would be, and believe me, my instinct was to pay another $20 to have a smaller one made. But then, I thought, oh, come on.  Bigger. Better. Onward and up!