Krisanthi / Kathleen
Satisfying looks at two "books" this week, with two energized female vocalists: one with the songbook of musical theatre hits (and a few appendixes of her own) and the other singing about the woes and wonders found in The Book of Love. With these personalized treats from Krisanthi (Pappas) and Kathleen (France), it's "Special K" either way.
The live recording featuring mostly show tunes and "adopted" show tunes lets you know Krisanthi Pappas puts on quite a show. Recorded at the aptly-named Footlighters Theatre in Massachusetts, her home base state, a state of happiness prevails. When she comes out of the gate swinging on her opening party invitation, "Lullaby of Broadway," it's almost like she is pulling up in a New York taxicab, and telling you to jump in for a ride along the Great White Way as it intersects with Memory Lane in this feel-good, frolicsome, no-fuss cascade of goodies, with 21 tracks in all. Timings range from that fun, frisky, brisk opener that's a few seconds shy of two minutes to two numbers by the Gershwins that are among a handful that pass the four-minute mark. The Gershwin picks, longer but hardly because they are slow ballad treatments, are "Oh, Lady Be Good!," with some extra time for her to showcase nifty jazz sensibilities and scat-singing chops, and the album-ending romp, "I Got Rhythm." Along the way, she shows a likeably warm voice and no-nonsense, non-diva approach on numbers from shows currently lighting up Broadway, like Wicked's "For Good" (taken tenderly and sincerely, but without heavy drama) or musicals enjoying revivals, like the title song from Anything Goes getting the breezy treatment and Chicago's slinky "All That Jazz." She also shows wistfulness and pensiveness on "On My Own" from Les Misérables. When there's more of a choice at hand with songs that have proven themselves as more flexible, she'll opt not for balladeering but blithely barreling through ("Almost Like Being in Love" and "It Might As Well Be Spring").
Not everything here was Broadway-born, but numbers that became known from films or pop that have been sung on Broadway are amiably admitted, allowing a free pass to "Fever" (heard in Million Dollar Quartet, and, thankfully, Krisanthi doesn't do one more slow-burning sultry sex kitten suggestive sashay clone version, but just has a ball in a bubbly way). Likewise, Frankie Valli's solo hit heard in Jersey Boys, "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," passes muster, though it doesn't get much added luster from a treatment that owes too much to the original, the corseting arrangement and tempo undermining the vocalist's moments of genuine interpretation and involvement. And the Off-Broadway champ The Fantasticks gets in, with its immortal "Try to Remember" showing more care to mood and a cozy feel. But, whether it's Pappas on pop like that, or real Broadway sizzle and sass (like two from Adler & Ross: "Steam Heat" and "Whatever Lola Wants") or a hybrid ("I Say a Little Prayer," the Bacharach/David pop hit recently shoehorned into the Promises, Promises), Pappas promises and delivers much to enjoy.
And she has more versatility on display, playing piano on three tracks and drums on one, plus offering two appealing songs for which she wrote both music and lyrics: showing her vulnerable side on the yearning "Holding On to You" and the adorably teasing "The Big Apple Lingo" wherein she puzzles over the inconsistent vowel sounds evident in the native New Yawk City accent. Beyond the few tracks where the pianist or drummer sits out, she's generally well served by a small band of musicians who are in step with her energy, fizz and forays into very accessible jazz waters: pianist Bill Duffy, bass player Steve Skop, drummer John DiSanto, and particularly nice work from Terry Anthony on sax and clarinet and guitarist Andy Solberg. They seem to feed on the live-concert energy, with an enthusiastic audience's applause fading out rather quickly so as to get on with the show, though the many piped-up "thank you!!"s are caught in the fade-outs, as if the singer is floating away in the distance.
Ms. Pappas can be heard live in Wellsfleet, Massachusetts, at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater on Saturday (November 5) with Duffy and Skop, and on the easy-to-remember date 11/11/11 at the Napoleon Room in Boston.
One of New York City's most enjoyable and impressive debut cabaret acts of recent times not-so-surprisingly becomes a spiffy knockout debut CD, as it was recorded live and captures the performer's quixotic and cute personalityand significant vocal chops. Kathleen France burst onto the scene, with a splash and a lot of spunk and sparkle, with her Book of Love show. Nominated for an award as a new artist by the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs, she has been a presence in the community, also working as a writer, covering the summertime MetroStar Talent Challenge and other events for NiteLifeExchange.com and has her own website blog. (Her enthusiasm and down-to-earth attitude comes through in her writing, too.)
This initial nightclub act centers around her romantic ups and downs and the general troubles in finding and keeping a man. Possessed of a large voice with varied colors, Kathleen can belt, croon, sing a sassy blues or cozy up to a tender ballad. The show's title comes from an attractive and succinct Stephen Merritt song. She's especially adept with musical comedy, and her rendition of the plucky-but-peeved princess song from Broadway's Shrek, "I Know It's Today," is delicious fun. The brimming optimism about finding a mate turns into increasing anxiety and frustration as the years pile up and hopes dim. Her comic timing is razor-sharp, whether boo-hooing or bemoaning or trying to buck up in face of lousy odds. "Rich Is Better" from How Now, Dow Jones lets her strut her stuff and drool over dreams of excess and success, accompanied and buoyed by excellent harmonizing back-up singers: Joshua Judge, Xerxes Eclipse, Erik Sisco, Cindy Green, and a particularly skilled vocalist in this area and on her own: Wendy Russell. In-demand musical director/ pianist/ singer Tracy Stark is also part of the vocal teamwork.
Directed by Lina Koutrakos, the show gels, and the original, delightfully self-deprecating patter which gave the show shape and a through line is mostly left out of the recording, to allow room for all the songs (the patter is included in print form) One included-on-disc talk section within a number is her set of statistics about the overwhelming number of single women and fewer available men in a "do the math" rant. The songs that follow let her wail and whine and recall her first love's trajectorya moving and nicely nuanced croon of Billy Joel's "(S)He's Got a Way." Then, there are lamentsboth serious and sardonicabout the break-up.
"Fearless" might be a good word to describe her "take a chance" approach. This is evident when she leaps into the self-pity party, tearing into the Roy Orbison trademark unleashing of palpable pain with the soaring "Cryin'," and goes all madcapor just mad as a hatterwith the gleeful revenge fantasy about possible painful deaths for the man who done her wrong (and the other woman) in "In Short" (by the up-and-coming team Benj Pasek and Justin Paul from their Edges score). Over the top perhaps, by design, it seems carefully calibrated for the pique to not peak too soon. But she has the ability to find shades between the big boffo and belting moments, with Rusty Magee's eyes-wide-open look at "New York Romance" finding her ruminative and wistful as she wakes up and smells the coffee of burdened and burned-out relationships and would-be relationships. There's vocal variety with some sections of songs (or whole songs) showcasing her deep, darker tones and others demonstrating control over a sweet, warm, higher, pure sound. She finds ways to color specific words here and elsewhere to crystallize moments and paint pictures. A few freewheeling pop songs are respite and release, the singer wise enough to know that not everything need be given the same weight. "Women Be Wise," the tongue-in-cheek old blues song (advising "don't advertise your man") is a playful romp.
Though Kathleen clearly is in her element rocking out with piano, bass (Skip Ward), drums (Dave Silliman) and guitar (Sean Harkness), she can be quite effective with just guitar, as she is in her enjoyable sequel show, now running at the same venue where this CD was recorded, The Metropolitan Room. She and the prodigiously talented Mr. Harkness have made it a pared-down-to-twosome set-up for The Book of Love: Chapter 2, Acoustically Dysfunctional over the next week. Love and lack thereof, apparently, can fill volumes. And this powerhouse singer, for whom "volume" is no problem, is a sweetheart of song.