When you watch a really well made movie by a skilled and talented filmmaker, you are transfixed. Jeanne MacDonald's new cabaret show, Harbor, is an equally absorbing experience. From the moment she takes stage at the FireBird Café, you know you're in the hands of an entertainer fully in charge of herself and, by extension, of you. You can sit back and relax, letting her share her joy in music, never having to worry that she'll let you down. And she never does.
During the past few years, MacDonald has come into her own as a performer. She always had a beautiful voice that's as sweet as Bailey's Irish Cream, but now it also packs the same unexpected wallop as that libation. Though she displays exceptional vocal control, she allows both her instrument and her emotions to soar. For example: She takes an impressive new song by Carol Hall, "Castles in the Sand," and gives it great depth. Either this is the best song Hall has written in years or MacDonald has become one of cabaret's most expressive young performers--or both.
A show based on "water" songs might sound like a drippy idea, but MacDonald's river of tunes breaks off into plenty of tributaries, so the act never becomes stagnant. There is much creativity in the song selection and in musical director Rick Jensen's arrangements; a soulful version of "How Deep is the Ocean" is as effective as a wonderfully playful coupling of "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and "At the Codfish Ball." Like a former dog-paddler who now swims multiple laps, MacDonald has become a versatile talent, easily and effectively moving from poignant ballads to comedy numbers. It would seem, in fact, that she can sing just about anything with aplomb.
Her show is named after Rick Jensen's new song, "Harbor," the appeal of which escapes us; but MacDonald certainly sings it beautifully and with complete commitment. There are other Jensen songs we like better, but we've never been more impressed with MacDonald. Backed by the inventive Jensen on the piano and the deeply expressive Steve Bargonetti on guitar, she offers a show that provides safe harbor for cabaret lovers. Harbor plays at the FireBird Cafe every Saturday night in January at 9pm.