Photo Credit: D. Sabella

A Taste of St. Louis
Don’t Tell Mama
Sept 29, 2019

A Taste of St. Louis breezed into Don’t Tell Mama this past week, and if these four women are any indication of the health and vitality of cabaret in the “Gateway”, then the “Big Apple” better watch out!

Part of an exchange program, produced by Robert Breig, where singers from St Louis perform in NYC, and visa versa, Beverly Brennan, Dionna Raedeke, Angela Nicholson, and Shauna Sconce, under the Direction of Lina Koutrakos, and Music Direction of Rick Jensen, nearly set Don’t Tell Mama ablaze with an eclectic program American Songbook, and Jazz Standards which toppled over one another, onto the laps of an appreciative and packed audience, many of whom were on the edge of their seat, and rightfully so.

After an opening group number, I’ve Come a Long Way From St.Louis (John Benson Brooks, Bob Russell, with additional lyrics by Jeff Klitz and Lina Koutrakos) Beverly Brennan opened the show with Hey There (Jerry Ross, Richard Adler). Her sultry jazz contralto and easy lyric delivery warmed the room like hot chocolate. This was followed by Our Love is Here To Stay (George Gershwin), excerpted from a show she does about Doris Day, and her 5 marriages. It was a pleasing pairing of song and story. In a surprising down-tempo arrangement of Let’s Stay Together (Al Green, Al Jr Jackson, Willie Lawrence Mitchell), made famous by Tina Turner, Brennan successfully conveyed the lyric in a new way, thereby releasing the listener from Turner’s icon rendition. She finished her set with St. Louis Woman (Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer). Here one got the sense that she was stepping out of her comfort zone, and successfully so. More of this please.

Dionna Raedeke opened her charming set with Won’t You Be My Neighbor, (yes, that one, written by Fred Rodgers). The jazz inflected Down-tempo arrangement erased childhood memories and became a sincere request for connection in the digital age. A Rick Jensen original, After All Those Love Songs, was sung to great effect. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Lennon, McCarntey, Harrison) was gently voice and revealed different colors of her voice. She ended with The Very Thought of You (Ray Noble), which cast a spell over the room with a stunning use of her upper register, delicately placed pianissimo, and genuine lyric connection.

Angela Nicholson took the stage with a creamy voice and lyric driven interpretation of Better Than Anything (David Wheat, Bill Loughborough, with additional lyrics by Nicholson). It became immediately apparent that Nicholson’s is an “old soul” when it comes to jazz. Reminiscent of Blossom Deary, Nicholson colored each line differently and specifically. Louisiana Sunday Afternoon (Franne Golden, Peter Ivers) showcased her stunning dynamics, nuanced lyric connection, and powerful voice, while never over-singing the lyric.  She seemed timid for the beginning of Midnight Sun, a daunting song to say the least, but recovered well halfway through to deliver the lyric beautifully and cleanly. She finished strong with Wait a Little While (Kenny Loggins), and had the audience literally screaming for more. It seems clear a New York solo debut should be in Nicholson’s future.

Shauna Sconce had the unenviable task of both following Nicholson and closing the show. Luckily she was fully up to it. Unknown (Chely Wright)  showed her disarming stage presence and lovely lyric connection. Crazy He Calls Me succeeded in spite of an arrangement which seemed to over-play the lyric. And, Miss Jones, a Jensen, Koutrakos original, played to her sassy strengths. She finished with a ravishing and deeply connected Midnight Train to Georgia, (Jim Weatherly).

Overall, the performance was a standout, and quite unexpected in many ways. The only criticism this reviewer has is that in both group numbers, the opener and closer, the women were not together musically/rhythmically.  Any group is only as strong as it’s weakest link, and noticeable gaffs in timing within the group not only weakens the group, but also weakens the perception of professionalism of each individual for whom it happens. Luckily, each woman was able to overcome the opener, in their own set. But how lovely it would have been for the closer, Route 66 (Bobby Troup) to go out with a bang!

A Taste of St. Louis will return to NYC with 4 new singers, and A Taste of New York will continue to return the favor. Stay tuned to these pages and be sure to catch either of them when they are in your city.