Photo Credit: Alan Glaze
Human skylark Jillian Laurain served up a lively and elegant evening of standards at Don’t Tell Mama, backed by a sizzling jazz quartet helmed by Ian Herman, and supported by the distinctive and masterly vocals of comedian-crooner Warren Schein and veteran doo-wop/jazz vocalist Tony Middleton.
“Sentimental Journey: The Songs of the 1930s and 1940s” was exactly as advertised—a journey through 24 beloved standards from two of the greatest decades of the American Songbook, which did not seek to illuminate with insidery patter or surprising arrangements. It felt more like an old-school nightclub act, featuring all seven performers’ sheer musicianship in celebration of a repertoire that was as much a turn-on for them as it was for the audience.
To put it simply, Ms. Laurain, whose career has spanned opera, musical theatre, and cabaret, sings exquisitely. She shone particularly on the ballads (Skylark [Mercer/Carmichael], Long Ago And Far Away [Gershwin/Kern], and All The Things You Are [Hammerstein/Kern] were standouts), but also soared in the Latin-inflected Brasil (Barroso), and showed off a burnished and incisive lower register in bandleader Herman’s almost funky arrangement of Old Devil Moon (Harburg/Lane). Only in her opening number, Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy (Raye/Prince), did her legit upper register strike a jarring note in combination with the passages she rendered with perfect jazz styling in her chest voice.
Mr. Schein opened the show with some good-natured corny jokes with a distinct Borscht Belt flavor, which seemed an odd choice of opener for a show that had no other comedy in it, and barely any patter. However, he soon got down to the serious business of singing, dedicating his assured, smooth, Mel Tormé-esque rendition of Come Rain Or Come Shine (Mercer/Arlen) to his fellow Borscht Belt alumna, the late Dana Lorge. Mr. Schein returned later in the show with I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry (Cahn/Styne), and joined Ms. Laurain and Mr. Middleton for the finale, Sing, Sing, Sing (Prima).
Mr. Middleton joined Ms. Laurain mid-show for a medley of songs made famous by Fred Astaire, and stayed onstage for a solo turn with Cole Porter’s I’ve Got You Under My Skin. As vocally incisive as Mr. Schein was mellow, Mr. Middleton charmed with his relaxed presence and effortless front-phrasing.
All three vocalists had senior moments during which they transposed or fudged lyrics, but they sailed through these minor glitches with the confidence that comes from decades of stage experience. All three, in addition, displayed a Rat Pack-era sensibility, more style- and chops-driven than the lyric-driven cabaret entertainers of today. Given the familiarity of the material, this could have been a liability, but it was not. These performers have their own brand of sincerity, a full-blooded musical giving of themselves, a physical, sensuous musicality that honors the song itself above all, akin to the way a classical player approaches a great instrumental work.
The band (Ian Herman, piano; Marco Panascia, bass; David Silliman, drums; Ray Blue, sax) supported the singers with taste and unflagging energy (Mr. Herman several times springing to his feet at the piano to conduct). Mr. Blue duetted richly with all three vocalists without ever outshouting them, and blurted an electrifying solo in the final number, which featured equally exciting solos from Mr. Panascia, Mr. Silliman, and Mr. Herman.