Photo Credit: Susan L Schulman
March 24th 7:00 pm
Performers: Klea Blackhurst, George Dvorsky, Nicolas King, Rebecca Luker,
Hosted by Deborah Grace Winer,
MD/Piano/Arrangements John Oddo,
Bass: Jay Leonhart
Deborah Grace Winer, who was formerly director of the Lyrics and Lyricists Series at the 92 Y is bringing the Great American Songbook to Feinstein’s/54 Below, in four jewel-box series, created for the supper club venue. On this particular evening, she brought together a highly talented, diverse cast for a performance centered on the music and lyrics of George and Ira Gershwin.
The evening began with the ensemble’s performance of ” Fascinating Rhythm” which created a sense of excitement, and anticipation of the evening in store. Joined by a trio of musicians, the song featured great group harmonies, a bass solo, and the clear camaraderie and professionalism of all of the performers on stage.
Host Deborah Grace Winer introduced the concept of the evening, and told of her personal experience with Frankie, the younger sister of the Gershwin’s, and a close family friend. She spoke of life in the 1920’s and 30’s when the Gershwin’s were coming up and the terrible impact of the sudden death of George at the young age of 38 in 1937.
The evening featured the performers in ensemble numbers, duets and solos that gave each performer an opportunity to share their particular gifts. The first soloist of the evening Klea Blackhurst sang “But Not For Me.” Blackhurst, a dynamic-powerhouse of a performer approached the ballad with a predominantly straight-forward style. Perhaps this kind of song isn’t Blackhurst’s standard fare? However, it was well executed and engaging. Later on in the evening she opened up her sizable voice on “Sam and Delilah” and brought the house down with “I’ve Got Rhythm”. Blackhurst clearly was at home in the Merman numbers and really shined here. She was also paired with the charming Nicholas King on “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.” They did not seem an obvious match which added to the humor and playfulness of the song.
The next soloist, Rebecca Luker, sang “Nashville Nightingale.” A versatile performer, Luker held the audience with a strong lyric connection, scat singing, and range. Later in in the evening she was paired with George Dvorsky in “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” The two had great chemistry here. And, were at ease with, and had a clear affection for, each other. Luker also sang “My Ship” with music by Kurt Weill and “The Man I Love,” where she once again demonstrated a strong inner life and the ability to share that inner-life effortlessly with the audience. Luker’s voice suited the material beautifully and drew out the nuances of the text with her subtle phrasing and command of her facile instrument.
Nicholas King sang “Isn’t It A Pity” with style and musicality. His relaxed manner pulled the audience in to the story he was telling in both this song, and later on in “How Long Has This Been Going On?” The number that really took off however was “There’s A Boat That’s Leaving Soon For New York.” King arranged the song, and got a chance to show off the exciting range of his voice here. King related well to the musicians on stage and created a truly exciting moment here.
George Dvosrky sang “Let’s Take A Walk Around The Block” with music and additional lyrics by Harold Arlen-( the evening might have been called “The Gershwin’s and Friends”). Dvorsky is a good storyteller and involved the audience in the song. Later on in the evening he sang “Sweet and Lowdown” and “Long Ago and Far Away.” It seemed that he had really warmed up by this last number and his voice showed more colors. He truly commanded the stage and the room.
The evening ended with the ensemble singing “Love Is Here To Stay” with Blackhusrt on the ukulele and “S’wonderful.” The affection and connection that had been evident throughout the evening blossomed here.
Organizing the SongBook series is clearly a labor of love for Deborah Grace Winer, and we are all the richer for it.