Hey, Look Her Over!
Barbara & Scott enjoy the solo cabaret debuts of Jessica Molaskey at the Oak Room and Ritt Henn at The Duplex but flee an earsplitting concert at Irving Plaza.
Well aware of her debut status, she starts off brightly with "Hey, Look Me Over!" (Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh). We look, we listen, and we like. Molaskey has an expressive voice that's both pretty and reliable throughout its range. She's also an accomplished actress, so she really knows how to turn a lyric. New to the game, she hasn't yet learned the art of playing a space as difficult as the Oak Room, where most of the audience is seated on either side of her; she might learn a thing or two on that score from such artists as Andrea Marcovicci and Karen Akers.
Quick-witted and comfortable on stage, Molaskey tosses off her smart, funny patter in an easy, conversational style. Her rapport with her husband adds to the warmth and humor of the evening. She also sings a number of songs that they wrote together. These two make a good team no matter what they do -- and, oh, those arrangements! Almost every song in this well-chosen program has a knockout chart.
Molaskey posesses a Broadway voice that doesn't surface in this sophisticated, cool jazz show. While she pays about a thousand percent more attention to lyrics than your typical jazz singer does, we yearn to hear her really break loose and perform a number to its emotional hilt. If anything is lacking in this otherwise impressive debut, it's that we never feel much is at stake; she entertains and impresses, but she could also move us, and she doesn't. We suspect that this will happen in due time. Right now, we're just grateful that Jessica Molaskey is coming into her own as a solo performer.
And So It Was Ritt
Another jazz artist, singer-songwriter-bass player Ritt Henn, has also recently made his solo debut: He's been performing his act at The Duplex and will likely bring it back again later this year. This tall drink of jazz is the next generation's Jay Leonhart. His songs are quirky, fresh, and wonderfully entertaining -- and so is he. Henn has a playful sense of humor that emerges when and where you least expect it, but there's also something genuine about his songs. He may be pulling your leg but he's also plucking your heartstrings, and that's what makes him so distinctive as a jazz artist. The idiom is jazz but the art form is decidedly cabaret because his songs are finally about the lyrics and the understated passion with which he delivers them.
Ritt Henn has a CD that cries out to be owned by folks who are hungry to discover new talent. It's called Ritt Henn: Goin' Back, and once you hear it, you'll certainly want to seek him out. We see hundreds of shows every year in the hope of stumbling upon an important new artist. It doesn't happen very often, but in the person of Ritt Henn, our stumbling has definitely paid off.
Show Us the Way to Go Home
A new concert series launched by Show People magazine had an inauspicious start at Irving Plaza last Monday night. The series is intended to give stage performers a chance to show what they can do outside of the traditional musical theater repertoire. To begin with, this seems like a dubious concept for a series sponsored by a magazine devoted to the theater; but then, almost every aspect of this inaugural concert was questionable. For instance, why did it start 45 minutes late? And why was Seth Rudetsky, a staunch proponent of classic musical theater, the host of this rock concert? Oh, he was funny, but he seemed wildly out of place once the decibel level rose to the point of pain.
The show started pleasantly enough as Gavin Creel performed pop ballads with guitar accompaniment. But then came Kevin Cahoon, a brilliant character actor in the recent production of The Foreigner, who put on a rock performance that was loud, LOUDER, LOUDEST! Was he good? We could barely make out a lyric. Okay, this is not our kind of music; fair enough. Then came Daphne Rubin-Vega, looking swell after giving birth just six weeks ago. She was almost as loud. We couldn't take it any more and had to leave part way through her set.
The concert was a classic example of "What were they thinking?" Although this series may find its audience, it probably won't find it among the core readership of Show People magazine or among show people in general.