Show tunes and jazz singers don't often belong in the same sentence, let alone on the same stage. But when you have the right jazz performer with the right theatrical sensibility, you can get a spin on a Broadway song that's still in the spirit of the original yet entirely reinvented. Offering a bawdy sense of unpretentious fun coupled with a deep dedication to the music, that's largely what three female jazz singers do in BROADway.
Two-thirds of this new show at Danny's Skylight Room could make a jazz lover out of the most stalwart musical theater buff. Martha Lorin and Jane Scheckter, highly respected jazz artists, build a bridge between their own medium and the music of the Great White Way; they traffic in great songs and drive home fresh interpretations. The only gable of this bridge that isn't as strong as the others is Trudi Mann--who, ironically, is the least jazz oriented of the trio. But the rest of the program is so strong that you will think of this cabaret cup as two-thirds full, rather than one-third empty.
There is nothing fancy about the way BROADway is structured. Jay Rogers has directed the singers to come out and do a cute opening number together, complete with a new lyric to Frank Loesser's "Fugue for Tinhorns" from Guys & Dolls that introduces them and establishes their concept. We don't see the three women sing together again until the end of the show, when they perform their own version of "Bosom Buddies" from Jerry Herman's Mame. Take the opening and closing away and what you've got is three short, solo shows, each about 20 minutes in length.
A woman with a firecracker personality, Trudi Mann has the first solo section--but her personality comes through only intermittently. When she sings "The Boy From..." (Mary Rodgers/Stephen Sondheim) from The Mad Show, she gets her share of laughs. But Mann is not the woman for the job of singing ballads like "Guess Who I Saw Today" (Murray Grand) from New Faces or numbers that require a more reliable voice, such as "Night People" (T. Wolf & Fran Landesman) from The Nervous Set. Given her open, playful manner, she'd be better suited to do the one solo comic number and then host the show; this would allow her to handle most of the patter while introducing the other acts.
And oh, what other acts! Martha Lorin comes out next and positively sizzles when she sings "I Love Paris" (Cole Porter) from Can Can. Here is a pure jazz singer who doesn't stop at interpreting the music; Lorin is dynamite on the lyrics, as well. You can practically feel the stretch marks when she sings "Birth of the Blues" (DeSilva, Brown & Henderson) from George White's Scandals: She starts with a slow, intense build and then, with a breath and a push, it's a spanking-new song. She's a revelation on "Love Look Away" (Rodgers & Hammerstein) from Flower Drum Song, her delicate performance as sensual as it is deeply felt. Lorin and the show's talented musical director, Tedd Firth, are definitely speaking the same language when they work together.
Jane Scheckter closes out the show with style. In addition to providing some much-needed patter that connects the jazz experience to the Broadway tunes being sung, she is also a good actress who gives character to "Every Breath I Take" (Coleman/Zippel) from City of Angels. She's not one of those jazz singers who try to impress you with vocal pyrotechnics. Instead, Scheckter offers an honest, direct approach to melody, a virtue much on display in her lovely rendition of Noel Coward's "Sail Away" from the show of the same name.