The Two of Clubs
Not to worry: despite a loving tribute to the great Ella Fitzgerald, classic rock 'n' roll fans of Freda Payne will not be cheated out of hearing her sing her hit song "Band of Gold." It's presented as a sort of live version of a bonus track, delivered as the show's encore number. Before that, Ms. Payne takes on the formidable task of singing a basketful of famous songs associated with arguably the twentieth century's greatest female jazz singer. If she doesn't nail every song, Ms. Payne does something just as valuable: she puts on a good show full of humor and personality.
The numbers she scores on best are Ella's signature song "A Tisket, A Tasket," plus the Berlin album songs from the early 1960s, most notably "Mack the Knife." The biggest stumble is her rendition of "St. Louis Blues" that fully misses the song's lyric. The take away, however, is all positive because the show is packed with top-notch songs like "Sweet Georgia Brown," "Oh, Lady Be Good," and "My Buddy" - all of them done with verve and style.
Ms. Payne does a good job of giving the biographical facts of the young Ella Fitzgerald; the patter is fascinating and delivered in an easy, cocktail chatter style. Unfortunately, about halfway through the show Ms. Payne largely dispenses with the bio patter and just sings the songs. Nothing wrong with the songs or how she sings them, but it would have been helpful to have more background factoids. Perhaps that's why the Berlin songs were so much fun; Ms. Payne stopped near the end of the show to explain their derivation, setting them up beautifully.
Ms. Payne's run at Feinstein's at Loews Regency is but one week long. However, there is an added show on Sunday night March 2nd, so you still have several chances to see her throughout the weekend.
Midnight Music on Saturday Nights at The Duplex!
Up till now, there have been two nights when serious singers could get up on a stage for an open mike night and potentially be heard by people who weren't too drunk too listen and care. Those two nights are Fridays when After Party at the Laurie Beechman Theatre and Mostly Sondheim at the Duplex take place and Monday nights when Jim Caruso rules at Cast Party at Birdland. Now add a third night: Saturday from midnight to 4 AM, when Michael Dionne and Kelly Howe host a brand new open mike night at The Duplex. The evening has no name, as yet, so we thought we'd offer one: Midnight Music!
This new open mike night began just a few weeks ago but it shows great promise because it takes place in the Duplex Cabaret Theatre where anyone who steps up on its genuine stage gets a real sense of performing that one doesn't get at a typical piano bar. The evening has several aces up its sleeve with a smooth fellow at the piano, Erik James, and two personable and talented hosts in Dionne and Howe. Michael Dionne is a playful, audience-engaging performer with lots of style, while Kelly Howe is a charming beauty with a great voice.
The night we were there, the music veered from pop/rock to show tunes with some amusing adaptations. Our favorite, a sing-a-long with a responsive chorus of "Hotel California." Great fun! Another highlight was the appearance of piano bar diva Kimlee Hicks who raised the roof with "Tracks of My Tears." But then, everyone who sang was pretty good; and that doesn't happen very often.