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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Wesla Whitfield Proves to Be One of the Best Cabaret Artists Around

Also see Richard's reviews of Pugilist Specialist

Wesla Whitfield continues her love affair with the Empire Plush Room where she appears through January 9th. This marks her 25th anniversary performance at the intimate club in the York Hotel where she first appeared on New Years Eve 1979. She has packed the room ever since with her admiring fans. Whitfield has also received recent kudos from critics and fans alike for song styling at Danny’s Skylight Room in New York. She has appeared in every major cabaret club in the states to great acclaim and also has appeared as Bloody Mary in South Pacific at St. Louis' Muni Summer Opera in 2003.

The San Francisco diva, who is now 57, is considered to be one of the best jazz vocalists on the cabaret scene today. She has a distinctive style and elegance in each song that she sings, amazing charisma and an instant connection with the audience. Many have compared her to Rosemary Clooney. Whitfield is also good at chatting up the audience with little stories from her past, and she treats her audience like a group of personal friends who have come to visit for the evening. She rejects any pretentiousness or big theatrical embellishments when singing, bringing out the soul of each song.

Backing up Ms. Whitfield is her husband, Mike Greensill, a great jazz pianist in his own right. He has a light swinging base shown to great effect when he played Earl Fatha Hines’ classic “Rosetta” as the overture before the sold out crowd opening night. John Wiitala on bass creates a delicate balance between the singer and her accompanist.

Whitfield opens the show with the Heyman/Levant ballad “Blame it on My Youth,” immediately following up with the upbeat Steve Allen song “This Could be Something Big.” She displays a great clarity of pitch and phraseology in these songs. She also sings a beautifully arranged “Imagine,” by John Lennon, that is very wistful. A lighter mood is created on the Cole Porter classic “You’re the Top,” with some great lyrics on the second chorus that are very adult.

Ms. Whitfield includes other Broadway songs like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “I Have Dreamed” from King and I and “Bali Ha’i” from South Pacific. There is a gorgeous arrangement of “Some Other Time” from On the Town. The diva sings one of my favorite songs, “That’s All,” by Brandt and Hayes, bringing back memories of the theme song of the American Airlines classic hour radio show during the '40s and early '50s. The artist puts together a package of money songs as she segues from “We’re in the Money” to “Money makes the World Go Around” and then a heartfelt arrangement of “Brother Can You Spare a Dime.” One very interesting song I had not heard before was “The Big Black Giant” by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Her phrasing of the lyrics is marvelous. Wesla ends the session with the stimulating “Nobody Else But Me” from Show Boat. This song has an intricate melody, and very few cabaret singers attempt to perform the piece. There is an encore, of course, as she sings the charming Kim Gannon song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

What better way to spend an evening but in a cabaret with Wesla Whitfield? She is stylish and sophisticated - just right for the cabaret audience who wants to see the top performers. Wesla Whitfield continues at the Empire Plush Room at the York Hotel located at 940 Sutter Street, San Francisco though January 9, 2005.

Rita Moreno returns to the room on January 11. For reservations please call 415-885-2800 or visit www.empireplushroom.com.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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