Since we first heard the songs of Francesca Blumenthal, we’ve known they were destined for the Great American Songbook. And we’re not the only ones. Cabaret artists think so, too, and they have been hard at work, popularizing these indelible tunes. Fourteen separate singers have recorded versions of Blumenthal’s “Lies of Handsome Men” — among them artists like Cleo Laine, Margaret Whiting, and Donna McKechnie, each putting an individual stamp on this emotionally complex song. Many of Blumenthal’s other songs have been recorded, as well, and we can’t begin to count the number of cabaret artists with her material in their acts. Now, the lady herself has put together a new revue at Judy’s Chelsea called Places, Please! ACT II — More Songs of Francesca Blumenthal that features a staggering seven new numbers.
It’s the nature of each of Blumenthal’s songs to be very specifically rooted in a particular place — hence the title of this new revue and of her last one, Places, Please! The Songs of Francesca Blumenthal. What truly distinguishes her creative output, however, is her gift as a lyricist. This is not to say that she doesn’t often write lovely, melodic music, but there are very few contemporary writers around who have such a sly way with words. Who else would even think to rhyme “gasolines” with “Queens” (as in her comic masterpiece “Queens,” with music by Addy Fieger)?
Speaking of comic masterpieces, she’s got a new one (with music by James Caporimo) called “Dear Rudy Crockett.” A song in the form of a letter written by a housewife to a rock star she once dated in high school, it’s at once nostalgic, witty, and regretful. Written as a mock 1960s pop tune, it’s winningly sung by Diana Templeton, whose performance — along with Marnie Baumer and Jaymie Meyer doing girl-group backup — makes this one of the show’s brightest moments.
Meyer gets inside a heartbreaking ballad called “All the Wrong Places” (music by Lanny Meyers) and Michael Marotta does a great job in dressing up “What Do You Wear” (music by Fieger) — a wonderfully nutty number — with his comically charming performance. Perhaps most fresh and inventive of all is a song (with music by musical director Wes McAfee) that was written for Baumer, called “Sixteen Bars.” Crafted as an audition number about auditioning, it’s very smart, and the adorable Baumer — whom we very recently and very positively reviewed in her own cabaret act, also currently running — will surely win parts by singing it.
Director Hope Hardcastle gives the revue a proper pace, while McAfee’s arrangements give it sparkle. Technical director Siobhan Weiss lights it with imagination, adding just the right color to Blumenthal’s already colorful songs. The show can be enjoyed at Judy’s Chelsea on the next three Sundays nights: October 13, 20, and 27, all performances at 8:30 pm. For further information, click here.
[More cabaret reviews by the Siegels can be found at www.cabarethotlineonline.com]