Jenna's Two Cents Blog   
Website: JennaEsposito.com   

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving, lalala!

Hello All!

Hope this finds you happy, healthy, and coming off of a terrific Thanksgiving!

I've been to a bunch of great shows since my last post and I know that the next few weeks are going to be chock-full of great performances to write about, so I figured I'd better take a few minutes to get caught up now, before I get hopelessly behind!

So...let's see...the last show I wrote about was the Metrojam on Friday, November 6th, which means that next up is Scot Wisniewski's show, which I saw on Saturday, November 7th at Don't Tell Mama. I've only gotten to know Scot over the past several months, and I'd never seen him perform, so I was quite eager to do so - and I'm so happy I did! Scot has a lovely, pleasing voice and a warm personality which immediately puts his audience at ease. Entitled It's Time, his show was full of songs that had been on his "list" to do for a while, but that he'd never put in a show before. Most of these songs ended up being old, beloved standards, which put the show right up my alley! The show was completely sold out, and everyone seemed to have a fantastic time - I know I sure did, and if the smiles on everyone else's faces were any indication, they definitely did, too! Jason Wynn's show was up next, later that same evening at the Laurie Beechman. Jason made his solo cabaret debut a few years ago with a fun, irreverent show called Not The Same Old @#$%, and he returned to the cabaret stage this year with a follow-up show aptly named Not More Of The Same Old @#$%. Seated at the piano for most of the show, Jason romped through a number of pop and rock songs, including a couple of originals, and kept the audience rockin' and boppin' in their seats for most of the evening. The arrangements were well-done, and most included his four fantastic back-up vocalists - Rob Langeder, Miles Phillips (who also directed the show!), Dara Seitzman, and Alisa Schiff.

The following afternoon, I returned to the Laurie Beechman to catch Jackie Draper's show, and I was so happy I did. Elegant, poised, and classy, Jackie put on a very enjoyable show that even included some ballroom dancing onstage! The room was filled to the gills and everyone had a terrific time.

On Thursday, November 13th (which, by the way, was the 19th anniversary of my first New Kids on the Block concert!), I headed to the Metropolitan Room to see my friend Maureen Taylor in her show, Taylor Made. I've gotten to know Maureen quite well over the past few years, and have heard her sing a number of times, but had never had the pleasure of seeing her in her own full-length show, so I was very excited to finally have the chance! Warm, engaging, funny, intelligent, and blessed with a terrific voice, Maureen really put on a great show. Accompanied by musical director Mark Fifer on piano and Maryann McSweeney on bass, Maureen's show told the tale of her enjoyment of life and loves and what she's learned along the way. Cole Porter's "Let's Not Talk About Love," which had been updated with witty, contemporary lyrics in the spirit of the song, was my personal favorite, although Ray Jessel's "I'm Outta Here" was a close second! Congrats to Maureen on a show well done!

On Monday, November 17th, it was off to Feinstein's to catch Miles Phillips make his debut in this classiest of classy rooms (I know, exciting, huh?!). Along with his musical director (the aforementioned Jason Wynn), Miles put on a terrific show and truly did himself proud. He had the honor of premiering a Kander and Ebb trunk song called "If You Leave Me Now," a beautiful ballad that suited his voice perfectly. Other favorite moments for me were Miles' "V&V" (that's Venom and Vitriol) medley and "Another Hundred Eleanors," which was an arrangement of "Eleanor Rigby" woven with "Another Hundred People," and also featured the lovely and talented Julie Reyburn as a guest performer. Overall, the show was a great success - kudos to Miles and Jason on such a major accomplishment!

The following night, I was able to catch the first set of Broadway Jazz on Broadway at the Iridium. Hosted by Raissa Katona Bennett, the show featured Broadway performers crossing over into the world of jazz for an evening, and doing "jazz" arrangements of Broadway songs. In addition to Raissa, the featured performers for the set I saw included Devin Richards, Ilene Kristen, and Julie Reiber. Backed by the Don Rebic trio, the performers did an excellent job of crossing boundaries and blending the two genres of music. Raissa, always, was a charming and gracious hostess, and kept things running beautifully!

I headed to Caroline's for my first time ever on Wednesday, November 19th to catch several of my favorite comedians who happened to be on the same bill! The show was Darlene Violette and Friends, and included in the lineup were Emmy Rivera, Sidney Myer, Jay D'Ercola and my good friend Danny Leary, among a host of other funny folks! I went with a friend of mine from work, and it was just the thing we needed after a long day at the office. We had some cocktails, ordered some zucchini chips, and laughed till our cheeks hurt!

The following night found me back at Don't Tell Mama for Sue Matsuki's birthday celebration, which was hosted, produced and organized by the fabulous Richard Skipper. My goodness, it was QUITE a lineup! I was thrilled to be asked to do a number, and to join the ranks of some of my good cabaret pals including Lennie Watts, Rob Langeder, Cynthia Crane, Scott Coulter, Miles Phillips, Gretchen Reinhagen, Terese Genecco, Shaynee Rainbolt, Maureen Taylor, and more (including, of course, our charming host and the birthday girl herself)! There were so many talented folks there, the show had to be split up into two acts! Whew, what a night!

On Tuesday, November 25th, I had a great time at Julie Reyburn's show at the Metropolitan Room. I always enjoy listening to Julie's beautiful voice, and I LOVED the song selection in this show! The material ranged from standards to musical theatre to pop/rock, and it was all very well done. She was backed by a rockin' band, comprised of Musical Director Mark Janas on piano, Ritt Henn on bass, Wally Usiatynski on drums, and her husband Thor Fields on guitar. After Julie's show, it was off to the Iridium for the fabulous Terese Genecco and her little big band. As usual, Terese & co. delivered a super-high-octane performance and blew the roof off the place with their faboo arrangements! Sadly, I could only stay for one set, but I'm sure Terese wowed 'em and zowed 'em with her second set!

Wednesday morning, November 26th, I headed upstate for a lovely Thanksgiving weekend with my family - and boy, was it hard tearing myself away from my sweet little nephew, Charlie, to come back to the city! However, I've got a ton to look forward to this week - most notably my All-Star Birthday Bash on Wednesday, December 3rd at the Metropolitan Room - so I forced myself on the train and got home in time to finish this blog!

As I mentioned at the beginning of this entry, I've got a lot of events on the agenda this month, so I can't make any promises...but I will do all I can to get another blog done soon!

Friday, November 07, 2008

California Invasion, Raissa Katona Bennett and more!

Well, I've had quite a past coupla weeks! I went to 6 shows, and 5 out of the 6 performers were visiting from California - what a treat!

On Sunday, October 26th, it was Barry Lloyd at the Metropolitan Room. Now, I'd seen Barry several times before, playing for fellow Californian Terese Genecco (more about her later!), but I'd never gotten a chance to catch his solo act - and boy, am I happy I finally did! Sitting at the piano and lending his rich baritone voice to a great selection of material (including an especially poignant rendition of "The Folks Who Live on the Hill" and a laugh-out-loud-funny version of "Disgustingly Rich"), Barry presented an all-around class act and drew some inevitable comparisons to the late, great Bobby Short. I'm so glad I was finally able to see Barry in a solo show, and I look forward to catching him again the next time he's in town!

On Tuesday, October 28th, it was back to the Metropolitan Room to see Russ Lorenson in his new show, Standard Time. Russ, like me, has a passion for the Great American Songbook, and this show was dedicated to the belief that, contrary to the opinion of some, the Great American Songbook did NOT end in 1959! With few exceptions, all of the material Russ performed in his show was written within the last 20 years, and boy, did he prove his point! With material by Ray Jessel & Cynthia Thompson, Tony DeSare, Harry Connick, Jr., Bob Levy, Peter Cincotti, Michael Feinstein, Francesca Blumenthal, Rhonny White, and Kelly Park, Russ navigated his way through the newest chapters of the Great American Songbook with definitive success! Sharing his smooth, seamless voice, and backed by a fantastic band led by musical director Kelly Park on piano, Russ did a fantastic job of introducing this relatively unknown material to the audience - and I'm sure all of the singers in the crowd are chomping at the bit to get their hands on some of this great material! Russ, himself, even joined in the songwriting fun, sharing credit with Kelly Park for writing their encore, "It's Raining Memories."

The following night, it was off to Don't Tell Mama to see the inimitable Ray Jessel singing - what else?! - the songs of Ray Jessel! Every time Ray is town I make it a priority to get to his show at least once! His songs, most of which were written with his wife Cynthia Thompson, run the gamut from side-splittingly funny to heartbreakingly beautiful - not an easy accomplishment. In addition to his stellar material, Ray's performances are always top-notch. His comic timing is impeccable, and the simplicity with which he sings his more serious songs is quite touching. He's got two shows left - one is tonight (Wednesday, November 12th) at 9:15 p.m. and one is Wednesday, November 26th at 9:15 p.m. Both shows are at Don't Tell Mama - definitely worth checking out if you're able!

On Saturday, November 1st, it was a double-header of two of my favorite out-of-towners. First, at 9:30 p.m., it was Shawn Ryan at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. Shawn's shows are always a blast, and I was very happy to be able to catch him this time around. Known to much of the country for being on the first season of America's Got Talent (and making it to the semi-finals!), Shawn is one of the most entertaining entertainers I know! He always has great material - usually a combination of Great American Songbook songs, musical theatre/comedy songs, and songs by modern composers - and he is also fantastically quick on his feet and just a naturally funny person. Combine all of those elements with a terrific band (helmed by musical director Kelly Park at the piano), and it makes for a thoroughly enjoyable show. After Shawn's show, it was off to the Metropolitan Room for Terese Genecco and her little big band - or, as she is fondly referred to in cabaret circles, "Hurricane Terese!" Backed by a fantastic group of musicians (including a horn section, piano, bass, drums & bongos!), Terese lent her through-the-roof energy to a number of well-loved standards, including "Ain't That a Kick in the Head," "Come Rain or Come Shine," and "Kansas City," and had the capacity crowd whooping and hollering into the wee small hours of the morning! Terese and the band will be at the Iridium on Tuesday, November 25th, with sets at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.

On Sunday, November 2nd, it was back to the Metropolitan Room for Broadway veteran, cabaret diva, and all-around-lovely-person Raissa Katona Bennett in her show, Putting Things Away. I had seen this show earlier in the year, and was so happy that Raissa brought it back! As I wrote before, Raissa has a beautiful soprano voice and is a terrific storyteller, which served her extremely well in this show. Featuring songs from such contemporary composers as David Friedman, Amanda McBroom, and David Caldwell (who also served as musical director!), Raissa not only showcased her lovely voice, but she also showed herself off as a talented actress, who has a great ability to make each audience member feel like a close friend and confidante. By the way, Raissa also has a great blog - be sure to check it out!

The following night, it was Cast Party time, which is always a highlight of any week for me! With Jim Caruso still on tour with Liza Minnelli, the guest host for the night was the fabulous Klea Blackhurst. Birdland was packed to the gills with talented performers, and Klea did an excellent job hosting and keeping things running smoothly (not to mention singing, which she did for us a few times - what a treat!).

On Friday, November 7th, it was time for another open mic - Metrojam at the Metropolitan Room! Host Joe Bachana assembled a terrific lineup of talent including Shaynee Rainbolt, Rob Langeder, Maureen Taylor, Sue Matsuki, Susan Winter, Miles Phillips, Deb Berman, and visiting San Franciscans Carly Ozard and Terese Genecco - what a blast!

This week has been pretty quiet so far - I'm a bit under the weather with a sinus infection - but I promise another post soon!