Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

The Swingaroos: Hollywood Serenade
Florida Studio Theatre
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Assaf Gleizner, Philip Ambuel, Kimberly Hawkey,
Uri Zelig, Marty Peters, and Steve Morley

Photo by Sarah Haley
The Swingaroos are in town for their third visit in four years, this time with a program of songs from Hollywood mid-1930s through 1940s titled The Swingaroos: Hollywood Serenade. Over time, their personnel changes, with Kimberly Hawkey (vocals), Assaf Gleizner (pianist/musical director), and Steve Morley (trumpet) being the core and other slots filled as needed. This time we have Philip Ambuel (upright bass), Marty Peters (reeds and flute and vocals), and Uri Zelig (drums).

The Swingaroos are a treat for the eyes as well as the ears, as Ms. Hawkey's outfits are almost worth the price of admission. This is not meant to minimize her extraordinary vocals, as well as a little bit of banjo playing and a brief stint filling in for Mr. Gleizner at the 88s, keeping a boogie beat going strong as he goes center stage with a melodica. The men are handsomely dressed, although not in period finery as they were for their initial appearance in 2015. These are details that separate a great presentation from a merely adequate one.

It is all in the music making, as it must be, and The Swingeroos live the musical styles of the periods they like to cover. Even the young whipper-snappers like Mr. Peters and Mr. Morley play with a solid sense of period. Mr. Gleizner seems more at home in this music than he was with Carole J. Bufford, before The Swingeroos set up shop. Ms. Hawkey channels Helen Forrest and other great female songbirds, and there seems total commitment to do so.

Johnny Mercer's spirit is all over the first half, and why should it not be, as he was one of America's greatest lyricists, very active in and around the movie industry in this period. His lyrics are featured on "Hooray for Hollywood," "Love of My Life," and "Blues in the Night." Any program featuring that much Mercer is pretty much guaranteed high quality.

Highlights of the first half include the aforementioned "Love of My Life," a little known tune by Artie Shaw which is a beautiful reminder that there are many gems needing rediscovery, "Chattanooga Choo Choo," Ms. Hawkey's understated "Blues in the Night," Mr. Peters' telling of the tale of "Minnie the Moocher," and "At Last" by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon. In truth, the entire 45 minutes plays like a highlight.

The second half opens with "The Joint Is Really Jumpin' in Carnegie Hall," by Roger Edens, Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin. Its novelty stuff, but in the hands of Ms. Hawkey, lots of fun. Other standouts are a duet version (a la Fats Waller) of "I Can't Give you Anything But Love" by Kimberly Hawkey and Marty Peters, a torchy take on "Stormy Weather" in tribute to Lena Horne, and then a medley of the two greatest movie songs ever written, back to back Oscar winners for Best Song, "When you Wish Upon a Star" and "Over the Rainbow." The medley opens with the verse from "Over the Rainbow," then Mr. Peters and Mr. Morley trade phrases of "When You Wish Upon a Star" on their instruments, and there's an uptempo chorus of "Over the Rainbow" sung by Ms. Hawkey before Mr. Peters joins in vocally for intertwined choruses of both songs. It is dazzling!

The show ends with an original song by Kimberly Hawkey and Assaf Gleizner, "I Love a Ballad," and a thank you to the audience with "You Made Me Love You."

I became a fan of The Swingeroos the first time I saw them and nothing has changed. Kimberly Hawkey is a major talent, specializing in music from eras that I love. Hollywood Serenade is a more even program than last year's Music of the Night, so Florida Studio Theatre should pack them in at Court Cabaret. I know I'm planning a return visit.

The Swingaroos: Hollywood Serenade, through August 30, 2019, at Florida Studio Theatre, Court Cabaret 1241 N. Palm Avenue, Sarasota FL. For tickets and performance information, please call the box office at 941-366-9000 or visit