Admit it: you know these songs. “There is Nothing Like a Dame”, “I Enjoy Being a Girl”, “Ten Minutes Ago”, “A Wonderful Guy”. You’ve seen The Sound of Music probably more than once, seen or performed in your high school’s production of Oklahoma!, and certainly have laughed at the antics of Ray Walston in the film version of South Pacific. The catalog of songs written by composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein 2nd is prolific. Together they composed a dozen or so musicals – most of them smash hits – and left behind so many wonderful songs that still speak to audiences worldwide fifty years later. With their new show at Le Chat Noir, soprano chanteuse Amy Alvarez and pianist/arranger Jefferson Turner have reinterpreted nearly thirty of the best Rodgers & Hammerstein songs in a delightfully sophisticated evening of song and story.
Rodgers & Hammerstein can sometimes come off as pedestrian – particularly since their songs are well known. Hammerstein was one of this past century’s most celebrated poets: his lyrics use extensive metaphors and have undoubtedly influenced a generation of lyricists with their marked simplicity and economy of phrase. Performers tend to take their songs for granted, passing them up for the witty work of Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart, or Hammerstein’s protégé Stephen Sondheim, or the endlessly celebrated work of the Gershwins. So it’s not your typical cabaret material. But these somewhat sappy songs, upon closer examination, are not really all that sappy – but pure reflections of complicated, imperfect people.
Alvarez is a versatile singer/actress, and her skills are certainly put to the test, covering the full spectrum of standards and lesser known songs by Rodgers & Hammerstein. The skilled soprano glides effortlessly through the hour long set with charm, passion, and a very pleasing, entertaining demeanor that will win over even the hardest of hearts. I was delighted by Jefferson Turner’s jazzy and fresh arrangements – he and Alvarez swing through the State Fair staple “It Might As Well Be Spring” and vamp it up a bit with the rag-inspired “I Enjoy Being a Girl” from Flower Drum Song. Audiences will get to hear three selections from a lesser-known R&H show – Allegro -- with the torchy “The Gentleman is a Dope”, “A Fellow Needs a Girl” and one of my personal favorite R&H gems – “So Far.”
Director Ricky Graham’s guiding hand has helped shape the show into several arcs, with sensible medleys -- pairing “So Far” with Carousel’s “When the Children are Asleep” was a particularly good choice, as well as the optimistic set of “I Have Confidence”, “I Whistle a Happy Tune”, “Cock-Eyed Optimist” and “A Wonderful Guy.” The latter two songs are from South Pacific, which won Ms. Alvarez her third Big Easy Award this past season at Rivertown. Happily, she recreates “A Wonderful Guy” with little embellishment – and her bravura performance surely doesn’t need anything more than a spirited rendition. Listen for other standards such as the heartbreaking “If I Loved You” – a one act play in itself – several songs from Oklahoma! including “I Cain’t Say No”, “Out of My Dreams” and “Many a New Day” – and a suite of songs from The Sound of Music. With playful banter and lots of charisma, Alvarez and Turner bring freshness to these songs that shouldn’t be missed. As always, Su Gonzcy provides focused and elegant lighting that makes the tiny Le Chat stage one of the most elegant cabaret boites in the country. Stuart Lob’s sound design uses tasteful and subtle amplification, another standard at Le Chat (thankfully!) and Cecile Casey Covert’s inspired “Mary Martin-esque” gown for Ms. Alvarez is right for this jolly night of song.
Nothing Like a Dame: The Women of Rodgers and Hammerstein
Starring Amy Alvarez and Jefferson Turner
at Le Chat Noir through July 8.
Call 504.581.5812 for reservations
Directed by Ricky Graham
Music Direction and Arrangements by Jefferson Turner