Jenna's Two Cents Blog   

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tina Jensen, Klea Blackhurst & Billy Stritch, an AMAZING Cast Party, and the Puppini Sisters!

Hello all!
Hope you're enjoying this lovely weather! After the steamy, sultry heat wave last week, I'm thoroughly enjoying the more moderate temperatures this week. And you know what else I've been enjoying? Some fantastic shows (how's THAT for a lead-in?!).
On Friday, June 13th, I headed to the Duplex for the cabaret debut of Tina Jensen. I had heard Tina sing at a number of Cast Parties before, and was so happy to finally be able to catch her in a full-length show! Joined by musical director Zachary Ryan and guest vocalist Alex Gonzales, Tina burst on to the stage with an infectious, unbridled, refreshing energy and worked her way through an eclectic mix of pop and show tunes with a fun, outgoing personality. Tina's uncle, well-known musical director Rick Jensen, was in the audience as well, and must have been very proud to have three of his original tunes sung by his talented niece. Indeed, those three songs (Harbor, I've Got To Sing, and Amanda Sang), were among my favorites of the night - Tina seemed to be especially connected to them and they seemed to suit her voice and personality perfectly! Another favorite song for me was James Taylor's Brother Trucker - I'd never heard it before, but Tina really did an excellent job with it. Overall, a very fun start to the weekend.

On Monday evening, I headed over to Birdland a little earlier than usual to catch Klea Blackhurst and Billy Stritch in their show celebrating the release of their CD, "Dreaming of a Song - The Music of Hoagy Carmichael." What a fantastic show! I saw Billy and Klea do this show last year at the Metropolitan Room and was so pleased to be able to catch it again! I love both of them as solo performers and together, they have a wonderful onstage chemistry. Their easy back and forth banter adds to an already top-notch show, and their voices complement each other so very well in their duets. Favorite moments in the show are hard to choose, because there are so many wonderful things going on, but I would have to say that my top three are the duet of "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening," Billy's rendition of "Georgia on My Mind," and Klea's "Skylark." Absolutely a must-see show if they end up bringing it back again!

And just when I thought my Monday evening couldn't get any better...along came a fantastic Cast Party - seriously, one of the best ever! I was just getting ready to head back into Birdland after taking a brief break to get some fresh air, and who did I see walking into the club but famed Broadway lyricist David Zippel?! But that was nothing compared to my shock when I realized that he was actually walking in with Liza Minnelli! Whoa! And THEN, as I was signing in with Jim, I saw Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell, the stars of the current B'way revival of Sunday In The Park With George walking in! To top things off Ann Hampton Callaway (my favorite singer in the world!), who had also been at the Klea Blackhurst and Billy Stritch show, also decided to stick around for Cast Party! My goodness, what a star-studded crowd! Liza, Ann, and Klea all performed, as did Ms. Lala Brooks - the lead singer of the '60's girl-group, The Crystals. Klea and Billy did a few numbers from their show; Ann did one of her incredible, spur-of-the-moment, completely improvised songs (with intelligent rhyming lyrics and all!); Liza did a beautiful, touching medley of "It Amazes Me" and "The Music That Makes Me Dance;" and Lala entertained with two of her old hits: "Then He Kissed Me" and "Da Doo Ron Ron." I was thrilled to get up onstage in the midst of all of these legendary entertainers and have my two minutes in the spotlight, but man - it's terrifying, too! I think I carried myself off very well, but I was shaking like a leaf for about the next fifteen minutes! Major kudos to Jim Caruso for bringing in such an awesome array of talent, and for doing a superb job of hosting!

Last night was another night of fantastic entertainment - I headed over to BB King's with a group of friends to catch the Puppini Sisters in their one-night-only NYC performance and I'm so happy I did! Although they're not really sisters, Marcella Puppini, Stephanie O'Brien, and Kate Mullins have such a wonderful camaraderie together that it seems very possible that they could be! The "sisters" have a very retro, Andrews-Sisters inspired sound, made even better by the fact that their harmonies are just as tight in person as they are on the CD (phew)! And what I love about them is that while they do, indeed, cover some Andrews Sisters tunes ("Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and Bei Mir Bist Du Schon," they also take more modern songs (including Blondies's "Heart of Glass," Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" and Beyonce's "Crazy In Love," among others!) and retro-ize them - very cool! If you've got a few minutes, check out their website and you'll see what I'm talking about. The show was just fun, fun, fun - I'm STILL in a good mood from it today! Another must-see the next time they're in town.
And THAT, my friends, brings us up to date!

I'm off to a double-header at Don't Tell Mama tonight - the lovely and talented Gretchen Reinhagen at 7 p.m. followed by the legendary Ray Jessel at 9 p.m. - should be a fun night!
Have a great rest of your week and check back for an update soon!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Time Flies When You're A Busy Girl!

Wow, I can't believe it's been nearly 2 weeks since my last post - sorry for the delay!

Let's see, let's see...where to start?

Well, when I last left off, I was headed to see Gypsy on Broadway - and wow, I am so glad I did! What a show! The music alone is enough to make me swoon, but add to that a top-to-bottom stellar cast, accompanied by a FULL orchestra (such a rarity these days), and...voila! It's as close to musical-theatre perfection as I've seen in a long, long time. Patti LuPone's Mama Rose was excellent the whole way through, but her "Rose's Turn" was truly outstanding. And if that's not reason enough to go, Laura Benanti's beautifully developed Louise should just about seal the deal. Definitely a must-see!

I had the pleasure of catching singer Susan Winter in her show, Love Rolls On, at the Metropolitan Room on Sunday, June 1st. Susan was nominated for a 2008 MAC award for female debut (for the show she did last year, Million Dollar Matinee), and it's easy to see why. Graced with a warm, jazzy vocal quality, Susan instantly puts her audience at ease, and she's got personality to spare! This show included some of my favorite standards, including "I'm So Lucky To Be Me" and "It Amazes Me," and Susan also incorporated the story of her parents' romance during World War II, reading letters that they had written to each other and really treating the audience to a special, personal story. Directed by Lina Koutrakos with musical direction by Rick Jensen, it was a beautifully constructed and beautifully performed show.

On Tuesday, June 3rd, it was off to the Hoboken International Film Festival to catch a screening of Garrison, which was written and directed by my best friend from high school, Kerry Valderrama (and he also stars in it!!). Inspired by the Fort Bragg killings of 2002, the movie takes an honest look at military life and post-traumatic stress syndrome. I'd seen the movie once before, and both times, I was really blown away by how well-done it was. Very realistic, and it makes you really think about what our troops go through, without hitting you over the head with any "message." This is Kerry's first film and I really can't wait to see his next! On Thursday, June 4th, I accompanied Kerry to the awards ceremony, where one of his actors, James Barnes, won for best supporting actor, and Kerry received a nomination for best screenplay - very cool!

On Friday, June 6th, I headed to the Metropolitan Room for Metrojam, the monthly open mic hosted by Joe Bachana. Joe kicked things off with a swingin' "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," and I was honored to be the first guest of the evening (I did two of my favorites: "Zing! Went The Strings of My Heart" and "Just In Time"). Also on the talented lineup that evening were Raissa Katona Bennett, Rob Langeder, Harmony Keeney, Lucy Shropshire, and the aforementioned Susan Winter. Backed by the wonderfully talented trio of John DiPinto on piano, Frank Wagner on bass, and Bobby Sher on drums, this was a really great Metrojam! Since the first Friday of next month is a holiday (July 4th), Metrojam won't be held again until the first Friday in August, but I'm already looking forward to it!

I spent Saturday and Sunday upstate, visiting my family and spending some quality playing and cuddling time with my nephew Charlie - he's getting to be such a big boy! Hard to believe he's going to be a year old in a few months!

Sunday evening, I headed back to the city and the sweltering heat, and then Monday it was back to the weekday grind. On Monday evening, I caught singer Kevin Dozier's show at Don't Tell Mama. Originally from New York, but having spent the last 13 years in San Francisco, Kevin surrounded himself with some top-notch artists to help him craft his NYC debut. With direction by Scott Barnes and musical direction by Christopher Marlowe, Kevin easily glided through the hour-long show, with some new takes on old standards such as "Soon It's Gonna Rain," "I Wanna Be Around" and "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," as well as new takes on newer standards like "Gimme Gimme" and Kander & Ebb's "Yes." Graced with a warm, inviting baritone voice, Kevin is a welcome addition to the NYC cabaret scene. After Kevin's show, it was time to head to Birdland for Cast Party, which was a blast, as usual! Jim Caruso was back in town from his U.K. trip with Liza Minelli, and it was great to have him back on the Birdland stage!

Tuesday evening, it was off to Johnny Utah's for a fundraiser for the Opening Doors Theatre Company. Since their upcoming production is The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, the party had a western-ish theme, and included a mechanical bull-riding competition! Donning my sparkly cowgirl hat (I always knew I'd find an excuse to wear that!), I gamely hopped on the bull and gave him a good run for his money! A good time was had by all, and hopefully, the theatre company made a few bucks on the evening!

That just about brings us up to date - stay cool, and check for another update soon!