Jenna's Two Cents Blog   

Monday, July 21, 2008

Off-Topic, but I need to vent!

Okay, two quick vents I need to get off my chest, then I can go back to my happy world of reporting on lovely shows and events!

First of all, I was EXTREMELY disappointed that, at the end of a meal at Serafina at 55th and Broadway last week, my dining companion noticed a mouse running around! Anyone who knows me knows I have serious rodentaphobia (or whatever the technical term is), so needless to say, I was really freaked out! However, when we alerted the staff, we were told that there was nothing they could do. Ummm, excuse me? Really??? Well, maybe they wouldn't do anything about it, but I refused to let it slide. The next day, I placed a complaint with the NY Department of Health, and now I'm telling all of YOU about it! So - avoid the Serafina at 55th and Broadway if you can - and spread the word!!!

Second vent - I REALLY wish women who are determined to wear heels on the subway would learn how to keep their balance! I was crammed in on the N train today on my morning commute to work, and all of a sudden, there was a shockingly sharp pain in my foot. I looked down and there was a huge hunk of skin flapping and a big black-and-blue bruise. I heard a small, "Oh, sorry!" from the woman behind me, but I couldn't even talk because it hurt too much and I didn't really want to cry in public. What's even more annoying is that she was actually holding on to a pole, and she still managed to topple backwards and dig her heel into my foot! Seriously, ladies - either wear shoes you can balance in or take a cab!

Okay, that's all I've got to say for now - check back later this week for a report on tonight's Cast Party and my Wednesday evening gig at The River Room!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Julian Yeo, Summer In The City, and the Algonquin Salon

Hey All!
I actually don't have a ton to write, because a good portion of my time since my last blog was taken up by the Summer In The City workshop I attended last week. Run by Lennie Watts and Lina Koutrakos, SintheC is a terrific workshop for cabaret performers, and I was thrilled to be able to take some days out of my busy schedule to just work on honing my craft! More about that in a bit, though, as I like to keep the blog chronological...
...So, first, let me write a bit about Julian Yeo at the Time Out New York Lounge. I've written about Julian a number of times before, and there is a reason I keep going back to see his shows - they're very entertaining and I always have a great time! Julian and his band have a distinctive sound, which he aptly lables "Retro-Jazz." And truly, if you close your eyes for a minute or two, it's easy to imagine you're back in the 1940's, sipping cocktails in a fashionable nightclub. It was especially fun seeing Julian in this venue, since the decor is somewhat retro, itself (although I'd say '60's, as opposed to '40's...the point is, though, that both the lounge itself and the music transport you out of the modern day hustle-bustle of NYC). Julian and his fellas are back at the Time Out New York Lounge on Tuesday, July 22nd from 6-8 p.m. and I'm definitely going back for another round - if you can swing by, I can assure you that it's a great way to kick off your evening! In case you're wondering, the Time Out New York Lounge is actually underground at New World Stages on West 50th between 8th and 9th - enter the theatre, head down the stairs to your left, and you won't be able to miss it!

The Summer In The City program started the following night, and I really had a fantastic time! Each of the participants had been mailed a song to learn a few weeks prior to the start of the workshop, and we spent the first night working with a musical director (either Rick Jensen or Steven Ray Watkins) on personalized arrangements of each of those songs. For this portion of the workshop, we were divided into groups and were either working with Lina as director and Rick Jensen as musical director, or working with Lennie as director and Steven Ray Watkins as musical director. I was in Lina and Rick's group and had a blast not only working on my song, but watching the other performers work on their songs and work with Lina and Rick to come up with some really amazing arrangements.

I actually had to miss the second night of the workshop due to a performance in Long Island (which went very well - I'll be back there on August 14th, too!), but I rejoined the workshop bright and early on Friday morning. We spent the day Friday performing our "new arrangements" for the rest of the participants, and worked on fine-tuning our performances of them, and then on Friday night we had a workshop on writing "patter." Oh, yes, the dreaded patter!! That was actually much more fun than I thought it would be, and I really learned a lot just from listening to how other people constructed their patter, and the ways in which they used their patter to lead into their songs.

On Saturday, we had an early start again, and were once more divided into two groups. I spent the first part of the morning with Lennie, Steven Ray Watkins, and our fantastic guest teacher, Baby Jane Dexter. Again, my own coaching was great, but I really learned the most from watching other people perform, and listening to what Lennie and Baby Jane had to say to them. After everyone had gotten a chance to work, we switched "teachers" and my group went to work with Lina and our other fantastic guest teacher for the day, Jay Rogers! This session was really productive for me, as I worked on a song that I'd learned only recently and NEVER performed before. By the end of the session, I felt like I'd opened up a new approach to the song, and I really can't wait to do some more work on it! Saturday afternoon was spent in a "marketing/business" seminar with the fabulously talented Karen Mack (better known to some as one half of the Gashole team!) and I was very pleased to be able to pick up some tips from her!

Saturday night, we took a "class trip" to the Metropolitan Room to see Eric Michael Gillett in his new show, "Best of My Love." Backed by Don Rebic (musical director) on piano and Steve Doyle on bass, Eric journeyed through a variety of styles, from pop to rock to Broadway, and sounded great doing so! My favorite part, though, was his "patter." Yes, we all make fun of patter, but when done well, it can make you feel like you're the performer's best friend, give you a clue to the personality behind the songs, and Eric Michael Gillett really nailed it. This was especially fun to watch after our patter workshop the night before!

The workshop wound down on Sunday, but it went out with a bang! Our guest teachers for the morning session were Kristine Zbornik and Faith Prince, who happen to be starring together in A Catered Affair on Broadway. Now, having been OBSESSED with the Guys and Dolls revival in the early '90's and having idolized Faith Prince throughout high school and college, this was like a dream come true for me! I was soooooooooooooooooooooo excited to be able to coach my song with these two ladies, but just the slightest bit terrified! However, the nerves went away quickly, and I got so much out of it!! Now, what was formerly a funny song has been transformed into a hilarious song, thanks to some great coaching from the generous divas! The guest teacher for the afternoon session was singer/songwriter Steven Lutvak, and since I'd already performed in the morning session, I didn't get to work with him directly, but he did a FANTASTIC job of coaching the performers who did get to work with him, and I had a wonderful time watching him work!

Wow, I didn't plan to write so much about Summer in the City, but it was really such a terrific experience that I found it hard NOT to write that much once I got started! A huge thank you to Lennie and Lina for their hard work and dedication. They really put together a wonderful program, and I'm so happy to have been able to participate!

Monday night, July 14th, it was time for another excellent Cast Party! Jim was in rare form, and Billy Stritch was at the keys, which made for a madcap, fun night! Seated at the table next to me were Michael Feinstein and Barry Humphries (better known as Dame Edna), which was very cool, and gracing the stage that evening were some truly fantastic performers including Broadway diva Carol Woods (currently starring in Chicago), Lumiri Tubo, and favorite regulars like Christine Lavin and Ray Jessel.

Last night, I headed to the Algonquin for Mark Janas' Algonquin Salon. I'd been encouraged by a number of people to check this out, and I'm so happy I did! Like Cast Party, there were some terrific singers taking turns performing, but unlike Cast Party, it was in a small room (actually the famed Oak Room!), with no microphone, and it really felt like we were hanging out in somebody's living room, just enjoying each other's company and sharing music. The level of talent in that room was remarkable, and I was happy to see some familiar faces, such as Dani Rhodes, Nick Levin, Julie Reyburn, and Jen Wren, to name a few. I was only planning on staying for a few hours, but I ended up having such a great time that I ended up staying for four! The salon is happening again next Thursday, from 5-10 p.m., and I'm hoping to be able to drop by for a little bit - if you're in town, it's definitely worth checking out!

So...that just about brings us up to date. Apologies for the loquaciousness, but I really wanted to share my Summer In The City experience!

I've got a bunch of gigs coming up - check out my website or my myspace page for details - I'd love to see you at one or more of the shows!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Happy 4th of July!

Okay, I know it's a little late, but I actually began writing this on July 3rd! ;)
Hope you all had enjoyable holiday weekends - I know I did (I spent the majority of it playing with my baby nephew, Charlie- it really doesn't get much better than that)!

I can't believe it's been so long since my last post - the past couple of weeks have simply flown by!

So, without further ado, let's get up to speed!

On Wednesday, June 18th, I saw a great double-header at Don't Tell Mama. First up, at 7 p.m., it was the talented Gretchen Reinhagen in her new show, How 'Bout Them Apples? Directed by Barry Kleinbort, with musical direction by David Gaines, Gretchen's show was a delightful romp through the annoyances and joys of everyday life as a New Yorker. With a wide selection of quirky songs, as well as a good mix of moving ballads, it was a thoroughly enjoyable show. Next up at 9 p.m., it was the incomparable Ray Jessel. I've written about Ray a number of times before, and he continues to entertain and delight each time I see him! Absolutely fantastic. He's got one more show left in NYC, and I strongly encourage you to catch it if you can! It's on Wednesday, July 9th at 9 p.m. at Don't Tell Mama.

On that Saturday evening (June 14th), I went to the Metropolitan Room to catch Jeanne MacDonald's tribute to Peggy Lee. Backed by a great band (headed by musical director Rick Jensen), Jeanne wove her way through much of the fantastic Peggy Lee songbook, including perennial favorites "Fever," "Teach Me Tonight," "He's A Tramp," and "It's A Good Day." The room was packed, and the audience delighted in hearing so many wonderful songs sung in Jeanne's smooth, easygoing style.

The following night, it was off to the Duplex to catch the Opening Doors Theatre Company's production of The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, the ill-fated 1975 musical sequel to The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas. This show was part of Opening Doors' "Closing Notice" series, in which they breathe new life into Broadway flops. I love the concept of the series, because while there are good reasons that some shows have failed on Broadway, they often contain some great music, which deserves to be heard again! As with Whoop-Up!, which was the previous Opening Doors show I'd seen, the cast of BLWGP was excellent and did a wonderful job with the material. Director Hector Coris and musical director Michael Lavine both deserve kudos for their hard work, which resulted in a well put-together, very entertaining evening.

On Wednesday, June 25th, it was back to the Duplex for the MAC New Face Showcase. Hosted by the talented Rob Langeder (who treated us to a great, high-octane "Blue Skies" to open the show), the showcase featured talented cabaret "up-and-comers" Kevin Dozier, Susan Winter (2008 MAC nominee for female debut), Marvin Parks, Mel & El, and Joyce Moody. Each of the acts treated us to two or three numbers, and it was a great introduction to them. Prior to the showcase, I'd only seen Kevin and Susan in full-length shows, so the showcase was a great way to get to know more about some of the newest performers in the NYC cabaret community. Joe Regan (piano) and Ritt Henn (bass) did a fantastic job as the "house band" and Rob did a great job of keeping things running smoothly. Thank you to MAC (and especially Hector Coris, who has spearheaded the "New Face Showcases") for providing such an entertaining evening!

The following night, I went to Feinstein's to catch Liz Callaway in her 60's-themed show, The Beat Goes On. With superb musical direction by Alex Rybeck and fantastic accompaniment by Mr. Rybeck on piano, Jered Egan on bass and Ron Tierno on drums, Liz sailed through some of her favorite songs from the 60's. Blessed with a beautiful, crystal-clear voice, she breathed new life into songs we all know and love, including "The Beat Goes On," "Up, Up and Away," Beatles hits "Eleanor Rigby" and "When I'm Sixty-Four," and an incredibly relevant and moving, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" Perhaps most enjoyable (besides the lovely singing) was the fact that while the arrangements were fresh and exciting, they did not stray too far from the original feel of the songs - hooray! Too bad the limited run of this show is over; I would have loved to have gone back and seen it a second time!

Last Sunday (June 29th), I headed back to the Metropolitan Room to catch Karen Oberlin in her beautiful tribute to E.Y. "Yip" Harburg. Probably best known for writing the lyrics for The Wizard of Oz, Yip Harburg had a long and illustrious career and wrote with a number of incredible composers including Harold Arlen, Vernon Duke, Jule Styne, and Burton Lane. Karen lent her lovely voice to many of Harburg's well-known songs including "Brother Can You Spare A Dime," "Happiness Is Just A Thing Called Joe," and "Last Night When We Were Young," as well as some beautiful lesser-known tunes like "Here's To Your Illusions" and "Sunset Tree." Musical director/pianist Tedd Firth and bassist Sean Smith provided top-notch accompaniment, rounding out an already enjoyable evening!

Whew! That pretty much brings us up to date for now - look for another update soon (I promise I'll try to get the next one up in a timely manner)!