Jennifer Blades at Don’t Tell Mama

June 19, 2010

It was thrilling to be at Don’t Tell Mama last night for Jennifer Blades’s NY cabaret debut.  She presented her show, My Funny Valentine, with a lot of great material ruminating on the theme of love.

Jennifer looked stunning — all Titian tresses, flowing over a black lace top, heirloom silver and jet necklace, and palazzo pants.  And of course she sounded even better.  She particularly scored with an achingly lovely Blue Fool and a charming exuberant version of Noel Coward’s Nina.

Having seen the first incarnation of the show at An Die Musik, I have to congratulate Team Blades for all the work that they’ve done on the project.  Rick Jensen did his usually stunning job as music director, not only accompanying her but also providing seamless underscoring and transitions between numbers.  And Lina Koutrakos’s direction really helped bring structure to the material and brought out the best in Blades. 

And I mean the following in the nicest way — you would never know that she was an opera singer slumming in cabaret.  Much more Eileen Farrell than Elly Ameling !

Here’s her song list:

  • Hurray for Love
  • That’s Him
  • My Romance
  • You Should Have Told Me
  • Shakespeare Lied
  • Blue Fool
  • The Boy From…
  • Losing My Mind
  • Echoes of My Life
  • Time Heals Everything
  • Murder He Says
  • Not While I’m Around / Sleepy Man
  • I Get a Kick Out of You / I’ve Got You Under My Skin
  • Nina
  • Fable
  • My Funny Valentine

Lina Koutrakos / Rick Jensen Workshop Concert

March 29, 2010

OK, we spent the workshop today putting the final show together.  Lina and Rick shared the process they use to assemble a show, demonstrating it on the one for the class.  Then it was the nitty-gritty of actually doing it all.  Particular congratulations to Daryl Anderson, ToniRae Brotons, Emily Everson, and Jennifer Blades who at 12:30 were informed that they were doing duets and had them ready by the 6:00pm show under the brilliant guidance of the teaching team.

For anyone interested, here’s a link to the recording I made of the concert.  (Unfortunately we were seated in front of the cafe area, so you also get the hum of the kitchen equipment.)

Here’s what people sang:

  • Hooray for Love — Jennifer Blades
  • Come In From the Rain / Why Did I Choose You ? — ToniRae Brotons / Darryl Anderson
  • I Never Say Anything / My Superman– Chris Cochrane
  • I’ll Get Up Tomorrow Morning — Christy Trapp
  • All of My Life — Darryl Anderson
  • Baby, You Can sleep While I Drive — Marianne Glass Miller
  • When I Fall In Love — Elcindor Johnson
  • It’s a Jungle Out There — Emily Everson
  • Do Right Woman, Do Right Man — Jean McMahon
  • Sleepy Man — Emily Everson & Jennifer Blades
  • Yard Sale — Michael Miyazaki
  • How Did We Come To This ? — Christy Frye
  • On the Other Side of the Tracks — ToniRae Brotons
  • Bye Bye Blackbird — Company

Lina Koutrakos Performance Workshop

March 28, 2010

Wow, it’s been a really fun, intense couple of days with Lina Koutrakos, Rick Jensen & company doing their DC cabaret performance workshop.  It’s always a pleasure to see the insightfulness the team brings to their reactions to all the performances.  Also, it was great to see the team’s show on Friday night.  (I’ll be doing a Cabaret Scenes review of it, and will link iwhen it posts.)

On a separate note, I am really proud of all out people from the area, who combine talent, intelligence, great material, and a lot of heart.  If you want to witness this  yourselves, come see the end-of-workshop show at the Atlas Theater (1333 H St NE, Washington), today (Sunday) at 6:00pm — but only if life prevents you from going to the DC Cabaret Network Members Only Showcase at 7:00pm.

Game changer…

March 25, 2010

TorchOops, this is embarrassing.  In preparation for Lina Koutrakos’s concert at the Atlas* tomorrow (Friday) night, I went to link to my review of her brilliant CD, Torch, and I realized that I never wrote a review.  It all happened because I got an early copy and wanted to write it after it became commercially available, etc. etc. etc.

And maybe part of me avoided writing about the CD, because it’s tough to describe something this good without constantly slipping into hyperbole.  My most rational senses are over the moon about this recording.  Not only do I feel that the quality of the recording itself is amazing, but I feel that it may end up being very influential, as I’ll explain later.

The CD is just Lina Koutrakos singing fairly standard American Songbook (with some contemporary) material, accompanied only by piano.  And from that, she creates a ever-changing palette of shifting scenes in a cognac-infused setting, from the mood-setting Lush Life, to the playful You Fascinate Me So, the hyper-sexy Night Moves, and the cathartic Man That Got Away.  All of this is supremely enhanced by the inventive and insightful piano work of Rick Jensen.

I’ve long marveled at the fact that Lina Koutrakos, rock chick, is one of the premier teacher/directors in the realm of the American Popular Songbook.  In this CD, all that insight and wisdom come to bear on her own performance of the material.  And just the way that Barbara Cook’s It’s Better With a Band recording showed sopranos that they can indeed swing, this CD is a watershed moment to show singers a path to contemporary interpretations of classic material without slipping into Linda Rondstadt-esque cheesiness or Rod Stewart-esque incoherence.

 Although you can order the CD through iTunes or Amazon  pick up a copy at Melody Records, why not just get one (or several) when Koutrakos and Jensen play the Atlas* tomorrow night?

*Atlas Theater, 1333 H St, NE, Washington DC, Friday, March 26th, 8:00pm, Tickets $10, at the door only.

Justin Ritchie at the Metropolitan Room

February 25, 2010

You know you’re at the right place in the cabaret world when you look up and see Julie Wilson there.  Last Saturday, at 5:00, that place was the Metropolitan Room for Justin Ritchie’s show, On My Way Here.

Justin presented a terrific variety of material, beautifully sung and emotionally expressed.  (Don’t take my word for it, see Jenna Esposito’s review in Broadway World.) 

Having seen an earlier iteration of the show, it was really nice to see how well Justin had settled into the material.  Favorite moments for me were the way he made the intro of the song But Beautiful really work, and the humor he got out of He Never Did That Before.  And he was endearing and spontaneous while accompanying himself on Mrs. Whitney.  Needless to say, for the rest of the show, Rick Jensen provided his typically wonderful and inventive music direction.

It was also great to see the contingent of people from DC who made the trip to see Justin including Mary Reilly, Lonny Smith, Maris Wicker, and Chris Cochran; plus Jill Leger made the trip down from Toronto.  So a lovely, lovely way to spend an afternoon !

Justin Ritchie at Sitar Arts Center

November 16, 2009

Thanks to Matt Howe for the pictures of Justin Ritchie and Rick Jensen at Justin’s terrific show, On My Way Here !

Justin Ritchie at Sitar Arts Center

November 6, 2009

JustinJustin Ritchie in

On My Way Here

Musical director, Rick Jensen / Directed by Lina Koutrakos

A look at the events and journeys that make up life – good, bad or somewhere in between – told through the songs of Elton John, Jimmy Van Husen and Johnny Burke, Dolly Parton, Noel Coward and more. 

Friday November 13th and Saturday November 14th @ 8pm

Sitar Arts Center – 1700 Kalorama Road, NW – Washington, DC 202.797.2145

Tickets and more information available at

Tickets $15.00

Great Bruce Springsteen Article

October 28, 2009

Bruce Springsteen. Click image to expand.Slate has a great article about Bruce Springsteen and the making of Born to Run (by necessity an important music milestone for anyone who had grown up in New Jersey in the 70’s).

Springsteen’s music has had a number of notable cabaret treatments.  My favorite is Barbara Fasano’s amazing recording of Rick Jensen’s recording of Thunder Road

Favorite quote from the article:  “What mattered to him was to sound spontaneous, not to be spontaneous. “Spontaneity,” he said, in 1981, “is not made by fastness. Elvis, I believe, did like 30 takes of ‘Hound Dog,’ and you put that thing on,” and it just explodes.”

Chicago Cabaret Workshop

July 25, 2009

For those of you who love cabaret tourism the way I do…

The 2009 Chicago Cabaret Intensive 

 August 21, 22, & 23

Alice Kinsella    

Lina Koutrakos and Rick Jensen

at Davenports 

Award winning New York cabaret artists Koutrakos and Jensen return to Chicago to facilitate the third consecutive 3 day Cabaret Intensive focusing on the art of song performance.

“I highly recommend working with these two
in any capacity when it is possible …”
– KT McCammond (Chicago)


Between them, the teaching team of Koutrakos and Jensen are the recipients of 9 MAC Awards, honoring excellence in New York cabaret, in addition to numerous other awards. They have been teaching ongoing advanced performance workshops in Manhattan for over a decade and have guided countless performers through the creation of solo cabaret shows. Both have served on the faculty of the Cabaret Conference at Yale University, The Eugene O’Neill Cabaret Symposium, The St. Louis Cabaret Conference and together have taught three day performance intensives in Chicago, Boston, Santa Fe, Washington, DC. and Las Vegas.  Jensen is one of New York’s most sought after musical director/arrangers and Koutrakos added two more MAC awards to her credit in 2007 – BEST MAJOR FEMALE ARTIST and BEST DIRECTOR.

 “..a marvelous ability to guide singers “
 – Lori Davis (Houston)


The core of the 3 days will focus on performance coaching, led by Koutrakos as director/performance coach and Jensen as music director/coach.  Singers will prepare at least 5 songs that are memorized and ready to work. Participants receive individualized peformance feedback in the following areas:  connection to material, physical choices, song selection, interpretation, arrangements, audience connection and internal/external focus of song.  Other topics covered in the three days include constructing a show, working with your musical director, the importance of the arrangement and developing patter.

“… great insight, energy and, above all,

love for the art of cabaret.”

– Jerome Elliott (Palm Springs)


The weekend culminates on Sunday evening, August 23rd at 7 p.m.  with a PARTICIPANT SHOWCASE. There will also be a Faculty Performance on Saturday evening August 22nd at 8 p.m. featuring Koutrakos, Jensen and Schall. Both evenings are open to the public. Performance location is Davenports Piano Bar and Cabaret,  1383 N Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60642 (773) 278-1830.
Cost for the workshop is $625, includes one ticket to Saturday August 23rd performance. Hours are approximately 9-5 p.m. on Fri & Sat, and 10-4 p.m. on Sunday. Space is limited. For further information or to register, please contact Tim Schall at 314-721-4634 or email
To inquire about separate private one-on-one sessions contact Tim Schall.  

A Performance Connection Workshop

Cabaret Intensive Las Vegas Part I

April 4, 2009

Well, the first day of the Lina Koutrakos / Rick Jensen has ended.

As if planned by the irony of the universe, the studio where the workshop is being held is a mere 3 blocks from Wayne Newton’s estate, and is the dance studio where he and Cheryl Burke practiced during his Dancing with the Stars foray.  The other six students, besisdes Ron and me, are all Las Vegas residents.  Five of them currently are (or recently have been) supporting themselves as performers.  It’s a thrill to finally meet friend-of-this-blog Karen Michaels as well as her husband David, who I never knew was a regular reader. (In fact, David has already promised to do a write-up of the workshop from the point of view of someone new to Lina and Rick’s process — something for us all to look forward to.)

Lina had a terrific iteration of her main goal — to impart “the craft of being your authentic self.”

Anyway, I really admire how open all my fellow participants have been in the process.  Yes, there were tears.  And I found myself wondering if Lina and Rick have to guide a male crooner through You Don’t Know Me at every one of these that they do.  Lina’s genius, of course, is working with people at the level they need at any given moment.  And she also has a particualr talent for making a very good performance into a fantastic one.  I particularly applaud classmates here: although they seem to be working at a pretty effective professional level, they are being open to something new, and a bit out of their comfort level.  But then, there’s probably a correlation between that willingness to push themselves and why they’re so good.

As for me, I decided to work on the song L’Accordianiste, singing the new English translation that I wrote.  I was surprised that Lina’s criticism of my performance was that I was not telling the story of the song enough.  In my revelation for the day, I realized that having written the translation, a certain part of me figured that my storytelling work with the project was through when I had made the last edit.  So it was great to have a reminder in this situation that if one wants has ambitions toward being a singer/songwriter* that being a songwriter is a totally separate job from being a singer.

Two more days of this.  Looking forward to seeing what happens…

*Trust me, not an ambition of mine.