A Rainbolt from the Blue
Heaps of praise for singer Shaynee Rainbolt and for Alisa Schiff's dazzling cabaret debut.
Give Rainbolt a good lyric -- either dramatic or comedic -- and she uses gentle jazz riffs to get underneath their meaning and make you feel what she feels. "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" benefited mightily from her combination of delicacy and intelligence, while her dry, understated delivery of "The Boy From…" was a hilarious triumph. The act also included such diverse songs as "Blizzard of Lies," "The Summer Knows," and "Honeysuckle Rose."
These selections more than compensated for the occasional missteps in Rainbolt's programming choices; for example, she probably should have avoided "Take it on the E String." And though the singer is personable and quick with an ad-lib, her patter was unfocused and digressive. But we suspect that she is too intelligent a performer to make the same mistakes in future shows.
Another singer with a really bright future is Alisa Schiff. Indeed, not since Julie Reyburn has a performer been so accomplished and sparkling in her cabaret debut as was Schiff in her show Mama Said: The Songs of Cass Elliot, which has just concluded a four-performance run at The Encore. Rather than imitate the late, great Elliot -- best known as a member of the 1960s supergroup The Mamas and the Papas -- Schiff told her own story in tandem with Elliot's. She created a unique and uniquely satisfying club act that drew its emotional power from her admiration for this legendary performer.
Schiff has personality and vocal prowess, both of which she put to good use in an artfully designed program of song and patter under the direction of Lennie Watts. The musical delineation between Elliot's work with the Mamas and the Papas and her solo career was very well handled; a medley of hit songs by the famous group was especially wonderful, thanks largely to the talents of backup singers Mason Robert and Julie Stirman. Musical director Steven Ray Watkins, who added his own vocals to the mix, provided rich and nostalgically potent harmonies.