The Green Room 42 Swings Sinatra
Green Room 42
2/21/20

A tribute to Ol’ Blue Eyes, produced and hosted by renowned Sinatra expert Will Friedwald and performer Andrew Poretz, combined vocal artistry and the cream of the American Songbook in one of those “only in New York” evenings which, for an hour, seem to justify preposterous NY rent and riding the sardine-can that is the F train.

Pianist Jon Weber and bassist Marco Panascia tastily supported a parade of cabaret and jazz artists who put their own (mostly) elegant spins on classic Sinatra tunes: Gabrielle Stravelli, Alexis Cole, Anaïs Reno, Danny Bacher, Dawn Derow, and Melissa Errico. In addition, Friedwald read an excerpt from his book Sinatra! The Song Is You: A Singer’s Art, while Weber and Panascia jammed, and Poretz closed the evening with a couple of lesser-known Sinatra tunes and a shot of Rat-Pack-style testosterone.

In homage to Sinatra’s habit of starting his own show with an opening act, the evening opened with a set by comic Andrew J. Lederer, who told a sweetly self-deprecating story about meeting Sinatra himself at Chasen’s. 

Stravelli opened the musical portion of the evening with Ring-A-Ding-Ding! (Jimmy Van Heusen, music/Sammy Cahn, lyrics), and Fly Me To The Moon (Bart Howard, music and lyrics), complete with verse. Tasteful, lyric-driven, agile-voiced, unpretentious, and warmly engaging, Stravelli projects a stage presence both commanding and adorable. She was followed by Cole, a more generic performer, who played, sang, and scatted on Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach’s Yesterdays. After some extremely relatable patter she became more likable, but was unfortunately underwhelming in her take on All The Way (Cahn/Van Heusen). However, a personal bias in favor of a lyric-driven aesthetic may have obscured the subtleties of Cole’s music-driven choices.

Reno, a smooth-voiced contralto, surpassed expectations on a fresh interpretation of  Autumn Leaves (Joseph Kosma, music/Jacques Prévert, French lyrics/Johnny Mercer, English lyrics) with impeccable jazz timing, and tranquil poise. Reno has been performing professionally since the age of 10, with appearances at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Birdland, and Feinstein’s/54 Below. Her mother, Julie Kurtzman, joined her on violin for Embraceable You (George Gershwin, music/Ira Gershwin, lyrics), and the legato of Kurtzman’s jazz solo echoed her daughter’s rich and sinuous fila di voce.

Bacher sang a driving version of Come Back To Me (Burton Lane, music/Alan Jay Lerner, lyrics), and took the energy to new levels in a rapid-fire soprano sax solo. His medley of Drinking Again (Doris Tauber, music/Mercer) and One For My Baby (And One More For The Road) (Harold Arlen, music/Mercer), had surprising phrasings which were greatly appreciated. Bacher resembles a state-college freshman who’s just made the football team, but his formidable jazz chops on two instruments relay a musical maturity. In a spangled blazer and finger rings, he could have been a poor man’s Rat Pack of one, a trope he mined for some good-natured humor in his patter.

The versatile-voiced Derow, the only cabaret star in a jazz-centric evening, made a brief appearance with Day By Day (Alex Stordahl and Paul Weston, music/Cahn). It’s a shame she only got to sing one song while everyone else sang two.

Derow was succeeded by the charming Errico, who was so at home onstage she sang with a hand in her pocket. This Broadway veteran used her fine-edged-soprano in service to the lyric of Come Rain Or Come Shine (Arlen/Mercer). She shared a story of her personal relationship with Michel Legrand, and while her extended patter may have been a little off topic in an evening dedicated to the art of Frank Sinatra, it also successfully placed her squarely in the tradition of great vocalists interpreting the twentieth century’s great songs under their composers’ batons. Her rendering of the exquisite What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life? (Legrand/Alan and Marilyn Bergman, lyrics) was as nuanced in its acting as it was in its vocal coloration.

Poretz opened the closing set with the obscure novelty Lean Baby (Billy May, music/Roy Alfred, lyrics), which he put across with humor, style, and rhythmic nuance.

The cultural changes in our society since the Rat Pack era were very much on display in “The Green Room 42 Swings Sinatra”: a procession of smart, finely-honed, dazzling and very personal performances by women artists at the top of their game embodied our #metoo, Warren-Klobuchar moment. The guys very much took a back seat, and when they were featured, their calculated Rat Pack swagger struck an uncomfortably antiquated note. This was most obvious when Poretz invited the cast to join him onstage for the closer, You’ve Either Got or You Haven’t Got Style (Van Heusen/Cahn), indicating the number would be incomplete without a female chorus. In the event, only Errico and Derow joined Poretz, Bacher, and Lederer, and stood very much upstage, gamely consulting a lyric sheet which seemed to offer no separate part after all. They tapped their toes and sang inaudibly along while the guys tried to outdo each other, shouting the lead vocal in what amounted to a good-natured mess. In our current era, it was unfortunate seeing Errico and Derow reduced to the role of “mice” while the wannabe-Rat Pack indulged themselves at our expense.

Other than that, it was a great evening.

Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez