Photo Credit: TBD
As the Baby Boom generation heads into their retirement years, and packing up and downsizing one’s life has become the norm, Claudine Cassan-Jellison was faced with the daunting task of doing just that after nearly 30 years in the same NYC apartment. As both a professional entertainer and an educator in the NYC Public School System, Cassan-Jellison is gifted story teller, and she has created a lovely, highly personal show that beautifully managed to move her stories from beyond potentially mundane experiences into the touching realm of the universally recognizable.
Breaking her narrative into a logically unfolding series of sections such as “School Stuff,” “Show Stuff,” “Life Stuff,” “Broadway Shows and French Chansons,” etc…, she used her impeccable musicianship to seamlessly switch between speaking and singing, giving layers of subtle meaning and depth with every word. Particularly touching were her memories about growing up on a farm in Queens owned by her French grandparents, and her years of playing Peter Pan in various productions at various stages of her life, not the least of which was a stint in Moscow which took her away from her husband (actor John Jellison) and two-year-old son (actor/playwright Matthew Jellison) for an extended period of time. Humorously musing about Matthew seeing her flying through the air at a dress rehearsal in Albany before the company left for Russia, she admits that to him “I was ‘Peter’ for the next two years.”
Punctuating her stories with a bracingly apt, refreshingly unusual set list – a medley of Stevie Wonders “Creepin’ and Bobby Weinstein & Teddy Randazzo’s “Going Out Of My Head,” and the hilarious “Los Pinguinos” (Marcy Heisler & Zina Goldrich) for example – the choice of songs showed off the many facets of her voice, from brassy belt to legit soprano, and her Gallic charm lent a contagious sense of joie de vivre to every note, especially when she explored the work of French composer Marguerite Monnot, Cassan’s French heritage lending a refreshing authenticity to staples such as “La Vie En Rose” (written with Edith Piaf) and “Milord” (written with Georges Moustaki), as well as “Our Language Of Love,” from Monnot’s early 60s international hit musical Irma La Douce.
As she neared the end of the show, she packed up the last box with two 11:00 numbers from two more musicals from the early ‘60s: “Before I Kiss The World Goodbye” (Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz, Jennie, 1963) and a rousing “So Long, Dearie” (Jerry Herman, Hello, Dolly! 1964) – in FRENCH, no less!; each of the numbers perfectly attuned to the tone of the evening, they were a fitting way to end a show about ending one chapter of life and moving on to the next. I’m looking forward to whatever Cassan will bring to the stage from that next chapter: she can sing me stories anytime.
(Full disclosure: while I have only met Mr. & Mrs. Jellison once – very briefly – their son Matthew is a friend of mine and appeared in my play The Fierce Urgency of Now at the Fresh Fruit Festival in July 2016. Talent runs in that family.)