Jenna Esposito Salutes Connie Francis

March 8, 2010

To Connie, Love JennaThe moment, V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N, the first track of Jenna Esposito’s new CD, To Connie, With Love starts to play, it’s obvious that the listener is in for a good time.  The CD is a live recording of Esposito’s salute to Connie Francis which has been playing the Metropolitan Room (where this was recorded) and other venues to recent acclaim.

I’ve always admitted that my knowledge of pop-music (rather than show music) is a bit sketchy after the Andrews Sisters.*  So the wealth of the Connie Francis songbook had been off my radar.  It says something about how well-known Francis’s legacy is when although I only recognized about a quarter of the titles on the CD, most of the songs were familiar when I heard them.

A recording like this poses the inevitable question about how much to copy the artist being tributed.  Esposito answer is to stick pretty much to the Francis feel on all the material, avoiding any radical reinterpretation.  Esposito is a gifted perfomer who makes it all work, with great finesse and charm.  Her dialog bits (in the show expertly directed by the great Lennie Watts) are informative and well-edited.  And the band does a great job of re-creating the sound and vibe of the era.

Having seen her, I can picture her, with swinging long brunette hair in a headband, scuba dress, and high boots rocking to the music while listening to the CD.  But I think that feel still comes across in her material.

(OK, it wasn’t the scuba-dress-and-boots look.)

*When Ron and I saw Jim Van Slyke’s Neil Sedaka show, I kept asking him, “Was THAT song a hit?”

Help is on the Way Today Benefit at the Metropolitan Room

July 31, 2009

Saturday night, I got to see an amazing concert at the Metropolitan Room, a benefit for Help is on the Way, a group that assists youth with AIDS.  The concert was organized by Lina Koutrakos and Lennie Watts as part of their Summer in the City cabaret workshop.

The theme of the concert was “Broadway Our Way,” with artists interpreting songs from the Great White Way.  Highlights included Koutrakos’s interpretation of Shall We Dance as a woman debating whetehr a brief sexual encounter was worth her while, Terese Genesco rocking the room with A Lotta Living to Do, K.T. Sullivan’s addled reading of Colored Lights, and Karen Mason poignant pairing of Now I Have Everything and Married.  Moreover, Mary Foster Conklin got me to not hate Something Good and Jenna Esposito found a great audience involvement moment in Down With Love, getting the crowd to shout the “take it away” repeats.

Here’s the line-up — truly a great cabaret sampler:

  • Mary Foster Conklin
    • The Gentleman is a Dope
    • Something Good
  • Jenna Esposito
    • Old Devil Moon
    • Down With Love
  • David Gurland
    • Stay With me / Wait
  • David Gurland & Julie Rayburn
    • Bill / Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe
  • Teresa Genesco
    • A Lotta Living to Do
    • Somebody Loves Me
  • Sidney Meyer
    • I’m a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad Man
  • Lina Koutrakos
    • Shall We Dance
  • Lennie Watts
    • Tomorrow
  • Karen Mason
    • Almost Like Being In Love
    • Now I Have Everything /Married
  • K.T. Sullivan
    • My Husband’s First Wife
    • Just Once / Colored Lights

Catching Up With The P-Mers

September 16, 2008

Various Perry-Mansfield alumnae have been busy…

Francesca Amari plays the next two Mondays at the Metropolitan Room in New York the next two Mondays.  I saw the show last November and it’s terrific!  Plus it was expertly directed by Barry Kleinbort and features the amazing Christopher Denny as music director.

Jenna Esposito has a terrific new CD, 13 Men… and Me (recently reviewed on this blog).  Also, her blog shows what it takes to really strive to build a cabaret career in Gotham.

Hilary Feldman’s CD, Taking Flight, has been out for a couple of months now, but it’s still worth noting as a lovely recording.

And that Bistro-Award-winning Kate Loitz has just made her (non-singing) YouTube debut as a crafty blind woman!

Make me #14!

September 1, 2008

13 Men...and Me!

This is a terrific debut CD by Jenna Esposito*, an artist who is starting to get a lot of attention in the NY scene.  And the CD shows why — she has strong vocals, communicative intelligence, and terrific taste in material.  In fact, the biggest argument for getting this recording is to hear some of the many great finds Esposito has dug up, such as Eso Beso, Sorry Said the Moon, Remembering September in July, and I Feel So Smoochie.

In general, I find that the tracks where Esposito is putting her spin on more slightly more obscure material are more compelling than the interpretations of more familiar material.  That said, her interpretation of One Less Bell to answer is stunning. 

The CD has multiple musicians and arrangers, but Esposito has managed to have a consistent un-schizo sound throughout.

  • Eso Beso
  • Dream A Little Dream Of Me
  • Thirteen Men
  • Sorry Said The Moon
  • Just In Time
  • Prelude To A Kiss
  • Sway
  • Since I Fell For You
  • Remembering September In July
  • One Less Bell To Answer
  • Down With Love
  • I Wanna Be Around
  • What Good Would The Moon Be?
  • I Feel So Smoochie


She also has a great blog on her site!

Justin Ritchie “Works It Out”

August 17, 2008

            Last Saturday I traveled to New York to sing in a show of all Beatles tunes at Don’t Tell Mama.  The show was a sort of reunion with my fellow Summer In the City students and the chance to put those songs we worked on and arranged in class on their feet and in front of an audience.

            The musical director I worked with in class, Steven Ray Watkins, was unable to be at the show so we had a rehearsal with the wonderful Tracy Stark.  I must say that I was anxious about working with someone other than the arranger.  However, this proved to be another great learning opportunity.  Steven had written out a chart of the arrangement, but I gained some valuable experience in conveying what I wanted the mood and the grove of the piece to be that couldn’t necessarily be written into a chart.

            All of the songs staged and put together made a great show.  Lennie Watts and Lina Koutrakos performed an entertaining rendition of “We Can Work It Out”.    Maria Ottavia was next with a wonderful version of “Yesterday” with a cleverly intertwined piece of “Help”.  The show rolled on after that with clever and innovative renditions from Morgan singing “Obla dee Olba dah”, Phyllis Mollen with her sexy rendition of “Money Can’t Buy Me Love” with a “Big Spender” flavor, and Jenna Esposito’s jazzy “Fool on the Hill.”  The very funny and talented Susan Dymond performed “Do You Want to Know a Secret” with a dominatrix-like flair and Faye Lane gave us haunting, thought provoking and moving arrangement of “Eleanor Rigby.”  Rick Peets and Jennifer Gregson took the stage at the same time.  While Jennifer was in the dark, Rick sang “Something”.  Then, as Rick faded into the darkness, Jennifer stepped forward to sing “All My Loving”.  Both songs were sung beautifully and I got the feeling that these were two people who are in love, but can never quite seem to find each other at the “right” time and place.  It was a touching, powerful moment.  Next was the incomparable De Jour Kenna with her stirring and hilarious operatic interpretation of “Revolution.”  I followed De Jour with my version of “Drive My Car”.  Rounding out the show was Lennie with his touching take on “Let It Be” (one of my favorite Beatles tunes) and Lina  with her high-energy, and infectiously entertaining version of “I Saw Her(Him) Standing There” – you just couldn’t help but dance along.  The show closed with Doug Shepherd’s funny, funny but at the same time poignant version of “Nowhere Man” – the introduction was “Hail to the Chief.” 

            We had a packed house filled with responsive and enthusiastic people who made it so much fun to perform.  Of course, the wonderful Lina Koutrakos and Lennie Watts showed again that not only are they great teachers, but they are gifted and talented performers.  Everyone did a fabulous job and really did “work it out.”  Every time I get the opportunity to perform I think to myself “I can’t wait to do this again.”  I love it!! What a gift it was to sing in New York at Don’t Tell Mama.  I had an amazing time!

 ***Note:  If he doesn’t “edit” this part out, I must say that the writer of this blog (who shall remain nameless) is one of the most thoughtful gentlemen I’ve met.  After the show he gave me beautiful roses for my NYC debut.  Thanks Michael!  It was reassuring to know you were in the audience. (Editor’s note: Why in the world would I edit this out?)


Road Report: Summer in the City Part 5

August 10, 2008

As people who read Justin’s entry on his Summer in the City know, participants of the previous workshop were each mailed a Beatles song that they worked on during that session.  Tonight, the class reuned and presented the selections as a concert.

For me, the most interesting thing about the show was the relief that we can say, yes this material is in the pantheon of cabaret standards.  (I never understood how some could doubt, but I was entirely convinced.)  It was fascinating to see the amazing way the singers were able to stretch the material.  And Rick Jensen and Tracy Stark provided PHENOMENAL support.

DCers will be happy to note that Justin Ritchie did us proud with his amazing rendition of Drive My Car (in the “11 o’clock” slot!!!) which started out sweet/nerdy and went to full blown belty/sexy.  Two other standouts were a haunting version of Eleanor Rigby (with an interpolated Khalil Ghibran poem) by Fay(e) Lane and a jazzy/swingy version of Fool on the Hill by Perry-Mansfield alumna Jenna Esposito.  And DeJour Kenner’s rendition of Revolution would have made (deliberately) made Darlene Edwards proud.

And of course Lennie Watts and Lina Koutrakos demonstrated that teaching and doing in their cases are not mutually exclusive.