Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of Isaac's Eye
Florida Studio Theatre is presenting The Swingaroos as its final offering in the Summer Cabaret series at the Court Cabaret. They call themselves a "swing-era territory band." The make-up of the group suggests a New Orleans group, featuring prominent reeds (clarinet and saxes) and trombone added to piano, bass, drums and vocalist. Their style is also reminiscent of the swing era. They play some classic tunes of the era but also feature original compositions by Kimberly Hawkey and Assaf Gleizner, the organizers of the group. The original material is stylistically perfect for them, so good that it could have been written by important composers of the era and stands up to a New Orleans street band inflection. I expected to enjoy myself, this music is right up my alley, but could not anticipate that I would run home to download all of their available music.
Classic tunes that are a part of the show include "Dream" (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer) in a medley with "I Want to Be Happy" and "This Will Be My Shining Hour" (Arlen/Mercer again) sung in a swinging up tempo version to close out act one. Most singers take "Shining Hour" as a ballad, even the ever-swinging Ella Fitzgerald, but I have heard it done up tempo and it works equally well. The Swingaroos certainly give it a super performance. In the second act, the group covers "They All Laughed" (George and Ira Gershwin written for Astaire and Rogers) in the sassiest performance of this song I have ever heard. This song is among my very favorite songs (okay, almost all of the songs written for Astaire and Rogers are favorites), so hearing this one performed in a way I haven't heard it before is a delight. Highlights from the original material include "Grocery List" (yup, its a jump tune based on items that might be purchased in a grocery store), "A Walk in the Park," "Steam Train," and "Backstreets Back." Over the years I have occasionally heard a ballad that is new to me and thought that it is so good it deserves to be picked up by other singers and have a life of its own. That was my reaction to "Far Across the World," an original song. With its yearning melody, It sounds like it should be featured in a 1940s film noir. I had to listen to it from my download to see if it stood up to repeated listening, and it sure does. I am planning to learn it and add it to my own repertoire and see if others like it as much as I do.
The music making is terrific, each one of the six members of the group contributes an important piece to the group sound. In alphabetic order the group is Daniel Glaude on reeds; Assaf Gleizner on piano; Kimberly Hawkey, vocals and oddball percussion participation; Nat Ranson, trombone; Oliver Watkinson, bass; and Uri Zelig, drums. I hate to single anyone out because each and everyone would leave a big hole in the group if missing, but Ms. Hawkey is awesome in every way; at one point, she does a weird scat thing close to the microphone that made me move around to see exactly what she was doing, as it sounds like she was singing into something, but I didn't see anything. Mr. Gleizner has real pianistic chops, something I find missing in many players today. Mr. Glaude and Mr. Ranson have a real chemistry as they often play in the same solos. This is a very talented group.
The presentation is also a big piece of the package. The men are in coordinated outfits, fedoras around with a Panama for Mr. Gleizner, although Mr. Ranson seemed to have forgotten his the night I attended. Ms. Hawkey has two lovely outfits, true to the period they are saluting. The microphones all have the '40s look. My companion for the evening suggests that the whole show takes the audience back to a smoky speakeasy of a bygone era.
The Swingaroos is a super way to close out the summer cabaret season, and don't bet that I won't sneak back to see them again for my own personal enjoyment.
Florida Studio Theatre presents The Swingaroos through September 20, 2015, at the Court Cabaret 1241 N. Palm Avenue, Sarasota. For tickets and performance information, please call the box office at (941) 366-9000 or visit www.floridastudiotheatre.org.
Lighting Designers: Bruce Price and Michael Sali
Photo Credit: FST