Featured Photo Credit: Nomi Ellenson
Internal Photo Credit: Natalie Fisher Photography

Joanne Halev
Like a Perfumed Woman
Birdland Theater
June 11, 2019 – 7pm

DISCLAIMER – While auditing a performance class led by director Lina Koutrakos,  (I was interviewing her for my upcoming book “So You Want To Sing Cabaret”) I had the opportunity to observe this performer’s process as she rehearsed for this show. Sharing the artistic process with her, as an observer, admittedly makes me a subjective, rather than objective, reviewer. This unique perspective makes this particular writing not so much a review, but rather an educational article on how this performer’s artistic pursuits came to fruition.


 

Musical theater is filled with legendary stories of rookie performers taking the stage, and in one night becoming a star. In that one evening, everything the performer has trained for comes to fruition, the stars align, and magic is made. And, while cabaret certainly has a different rehearsal and production process, every once in a while, a new performer can create a debut performance so captivating that the whole experience becomes greater than the sum of it’s individual parts. I am happy to report that Joanne Halev delivered just such a debut.

Even before Halev hit the stage, I was impressed her press materials. Now, normally I would not mention an artist’s press-kit in a review format (although very often I would like to call out the less-than-stellar examples). However, since this is an article/review, for educational purposes, I feel it justified to mention here, exactly what worked well with Halev’s materials. First, they were printed on a much heavier than usual stock and presented in an elegant, and well organized, folder. This gave her press-kit a regal sophistication that was physically tactile. The feel of the paper actually made an impression. Secondly, her song list was well organized, with lyricist and composer correctly indicated for each song, and, allowed for ample blank space between songs for this reviewer (any reviewer) to be able to take notes. Thirdly, her personal bio was authentic, listing her non-performance careers (all three of them) and listing her cabaret appearances, mostly group shows, prior to this solo debut. Above all, and it bears repeating, it was AUTHENTIC, with no trace of self-aggrandizement. This press packet alone was a lesson for other performers, regardless their level of expertise.

Perhaps this attention to detail and the tactile satisfaction of her press kit stems from Halev’s corporate experience? Or perhaps the honing of her own five senses in the world of fragrance creation gave her insight into how to “set the table” for a satisfying experience. No matter what the reason, from the first perusal (and touch) of her press kit I felt that we, the audience, would be well taken care of, and the show proved that to be true.

Playing to a packed house, and accompanied by the incomparable Music Director Alex Rybeck, Halev entered in a chic three quarter, tastefully beaded, iridescent taupe pant suit. This choice of “costuming” bespoke an understated elegance, and the immediate image was one of class and sophistication, which Halev embodied fully.

Her first number, a stunning arrangement of Like a Perfumed Woman (Frank Loesser), and I Remember You (Johnny Mercer, Victor Schertzinger) revealed a velvety warm voice with burnished overtones, resembling a contralto version of Cleo Lane. She was poised, welcoming, and immediately captivating with this “in-the-moment” interpretation.

The arrangement and it’s execution was enough to make one forget that this was a debut performance. But, with the first song over, nerves seemed to get the better of her, as she immediately “went up”   on her connective patter. This was, however, the only indication of “debut-itis”, and she recovered charmingly. The lesson here – rehearse your patter as much as you rehearse your songs.

Her Fragrance Facts Medley, with small “snippets” of well-known songs, I’ve Got You Under My Skin (Cole Porter), One Note Samba (Antonio Carlos Jobim), C’est Si Bon (Henri Betti, Andre’ Hornez), I’ve Got the World On a String (Ted Koehler, Harold Arlen), and Natural Woman (Jerry Wexler, Gerry Goffin, Carole King) efficiently set the premise of her evening, explaining that she worked for many years in the world of global fragrance creation, using her own “skin” to sample the “notes” of the fragrances she traveled the “world” to help create. This was well-crafted story telling using familiar songs that we got to hear in a totally new way. And, indeed throughout the evening Halev continued to display original sensitive phrasing and lovely vocal dynamics, as well as attention to lyric interpretation. And, with Much More Married (Dillie Keane) she even revealed a comic flair.

Storytelling remained front and center in a brilliant arrangement of Some Enchanted Evening, as she recounted meeting her husband at a Passover dinner, and their ensuing courtship. Rybeck outdid himself here with melodic minor embellishments that added an exotic flavor to what is traditionally a straight-forward, and very well known, piece of music.

Slightly less successful (and I am being picky) was More Than You Know (Vincent Youmans, Billy Rose, Edward Eliscu). Here, I would have wished for slightly different vocal colors, as Halev’s voice did not seem to meet the crescendo of this arrangement. Although cabaret is first and foremost a lyric driven experience, and Halev delivered this well, it also benefits from, and can be a transcendent experience when, the voice is able to match, or even surpass, the audience’s expectations. For the most part in this evening Halev did just that. And, perhaps if she and Rybeck had not set the bar so high, this small vocal shortcoming would’ve gone unnoticed.  But, however beautiful it was, the arrangement itself seemed to slightly compete with her, at the top of her range.

Of particular note, however, was Halev’s entrancing arrangement of Embraceable You (George & Ira Gershwin) and Les Feuilles Mortes/Autumn Leaves, during which the audience was hushed into a palpable silence. And, did I hear an outro tag of “Like a Perfumed Woman” musically tying the evening together in a perfect little bow? I think I Did!

Overall, the craft displayed by all members of this team was incredibly impressive. Lina Koutrakos’ direction was once again meticulous, while letting Halev’s own artistic voice cut through in the most personal way. And Alex Rybeck, led the band musically with an elegance that rivaled Halev’s own. Even Ray Kilday on Bass, and Ari Axelrod, on Conga, supported Halev instinctively, which helped the singer make that sometimes awkward (but here elegant) transition from novice to pro.

Having seen part of the process for this singer and this show, I was still not prepared for what beautifully unfolded at The Birdland Theater, which was, quite possibly, the best debut performance of the season thus far.

Joanne Halev reprises this show on July 2, 2019, at Birdland Theater. To see how a debut is done, go check her out.