Photo courtesy of Yael Rasooly
International chanteuse and theatre artist Yael Rasooly and virtuoso accordionist Iliya Magalnyk brought an old-world glamour, a polyglot sensibility, and a light touch, to the Laurie Beechman Theatre with “Glamour In The Dark,” an eclectic set of songs in French, Yiddish, Hebrew, and English.
The bulk of the set consisted of Rasooly’s affectionate and powerful readings of Edith Piaf’s best-known songs, interspersed with amusing blues-tinged obscurities, accordion solos, and other assorted delights.
Rasooly’s classically trained voice is a many-hued instrument. For the Piaf material, she channeled Piaf herself, with a rich, fast-beating alto. In Alfonsina Y El Mar (Ariel Ramirez, Félix Luna), sung in her native Hebrew, Rasooly relaxed into a gentle, haunting soprano. Busy Line (Frank Stanton, Murray Semos) showed her jazz chops, including an expressive scat made up entirely of pitched lip-trills.
Magalnyk is a warmly appealing virtuoso accordionist whose playing combines Chico Marx-like comic flourishes with head-spinning creativity. He utilized the accordion’s entire five-octave range in his expressive and theatrical solo turns, and supported Rasooly like a swinging—but never intrusive—big band.
These two virtuosic Israeli artists met over the Internet, and unlike most Internet hookups, theirs turned out to be a (musical) match made in heaven. They complemented each other theatrically as well. Both in black and white, she in a highly-structured little black couture dress and patent pumps, and he in baggy jeans and a black sailor cap, they embodied all sorts of opposites: male/female, mistress/servant, speaking/silent (Magalnyk’s English is limited), serious/comic.
This is not to imply that Rasooly left all the humor to Magalnyk. Several of the Piaf songs were given a playful makeover, such as La Vie En Rose (Edith Piaf, Marguerite Monnot, Louiguy), reimagined as a theme with variations, including a Betty Boop version, and one inspired by the Queen of the Night. Je Ne Regrette Rien (Charles Dumont, Michel Vaucaire) was almost a dialogue between Rasooly and Magalnyk, and included a tongue-in-cheek interlude quoting Bizet’s “Habanera.”
Trumpeter Rafael Castillo-Halvorssen joined Rasooly and Magalnyk on a couple of numbers, adding his own expressive and humorous virtuoso touches to the English/Yiddish Bei Mir Bist Du Schon (Sholom Secunda), and Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me (Arthur Swanstone, Charles McCarron, Carey Morgan). The prestissimo patter section of Blues was especially impressive given that English is not Rasooly’s first language.
Rasooly is one of Israel’s premiere theatre artists, and her theatre training showed in her Piaf translation of Milord (Georges Moustaki, Marguerite Monnot), presented as a wholly realized staged monologue. And she closed the set with an improv game, bringing audience members onstage to act out the story of Piaf’s La Foule (Angel Cabral, Michel Rivgauche).
At times serious, at times light-hearted, “Glamour In The Dark” was an elegant entertainment by two highly skilled artists whose musical sensibilities, offbeat humor, and unpretentious, friendly presences were a perfect fit.