Ricky Ritzels Broadway – Don’t Tell Mama – 7:00 pm
SEPTEMBER 8 & 18
THOSE GIRLS ARE BACK AT THE BEECHMAN!!
THOSE GIRLS are…
Eve Eaton ~ Rachel Hanser ~ Karen Mack ~ Wendy Russell
Directed by: Lennie Watts
Steven Ray Watkins: MD & Piano
Laurie Beechman Theater
Take the Plunge & Take the Stage ~ w/Dan Furman
NEW DAY AND TIME: Thursdays 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm – Beginning mid September
Private Lessons ~ ongoing
Mondays – Tuesdays – Wednesdays (see lessons page)
NEWS & REVIEWS
THOSE GIRLS ARE A HIT!!
Rob Lester Writes:
And this article from Richard Skipper:
Winter Rhythms @ Urban Stages:
For the Winter Rhythms festival at Urban Stages, Lennie Watts uncovered a new category of cabaret songs. He reconfigured recordings, mostly by rock groups, that were popular from the early 1960s’ Beatles forward to Aerosmith and the Backstreet Boys in the 1990s, and even to *NSYNC in 2000. Performed by nine first-rate singers, the Watts arrangements slowed tempos somewhat, emphasized lyrics over noise, and were generally handed to solo artists not necessarily of the same gender as the original hit-makers. Occasionally, of course, without loud strings and brass to drown out the words, this combination exposed banal lyrics or bad rhymes. But by and large this concept worked well and should be continued with this show somewhere beyond one night, and in other ventures like it.
The songs were all; there was no narration whatsoever in this presentation. Audience members were on their own if they cared to identify who originally sang—and who wrote—each song, and when it was released. That complete lack of chat left room for 22 full numbers (including mash-ups) in about an hour. All that music required not one, but two topflight musical directors who comprised the entire accompanying band: Ted Stafford, who played guitar; and Steven Ray Watkins, who played piano. Both men also sang occasional backup. (Although most number were carried by a single lead singer, a bevy of backup singers—ranging from a single virtual co-star to everyone else on the stage—happily figured in the Watts remixes.)
A couple of numbers sounded pretty close to their originators’ versions, such as the mash-up of two early 1980s Pointer Sisters songs, “He’s So Shy” (Tom Snow, Cynthia Weil) and “Slow Hand” (Michael Clark, John Bettis), soloed by Natasha Castillo, but with two women and a man for backup. On the other hand, The Eagles’ 1976 hit “Take It to the Limit” (Don Henley, Randy Meisner) was somewhat speeded up and rousingly delivered by Tommy J. Dose in near-gospel mode. The same group’s “The Long Run” (Henley, Glenn Frey) was even more of a departure, with Wendy Russell as the soulful sole singer. The best decade-spanning combination was “Dance with Me” (from the group Orleans, 1975, by John J. Hall and Johanna Hall) and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” (Whitney Houston’s 1987 Number 1 hit,. by George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam), sung by Lisa Viggiano, abetted by Karen Mack.
“Take a Chance on Me” (Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus) was thoughtfully seductive in Rachel Hanser’s delivery, a significant departure from ABBA’s original 1976 bouncier take. The most notable gender-switching came with “I Hear a Symphony” (Lamont Dozier, Brian and Eddie Holland) in a touching, serious consideration of the lyrics by an all-male quartet, replacing the Supremes trio from 1965. Jim Speake assumed the Diana Ross lead singing role, with Watkins, Stafford and Dose in vocal support. A medley of two Beatles songs, “You Can’t Do That” and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” (both by Lennon & McCartney) was neatly fronted by a woman, Christy Trapp, but had all four males singing behind her.
The Rolling Stones were missing from this long and eclectic set list, but I do have a suggestion for the next go-round of the show: a balladized female solo version of their “Wild Horses” (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards) from 1971. Any one of the seven women in this show, whose number includes Eve Eaton, could handle this very nicely.
Winter Rhythms at Urban Stages – December 5
WENDY RUSSELL IS 2nd RUNNER UP IN “MAMA’S NEXT BIG ACT” CONTEST!!!
Aug 26, 2015: There was an explosion last night at the finale of “Mama’s Next BIG Act!” at Don’t Tell Mama. In a giant win, Amorika Amoroso came out on top of a remarkably gifted and well-matched group of performers who treated the standing-room only audience to an evening of sustained artistry and passion. Amoroso, a deliriously funny R&B and blues singer/bad-ass who slices and dices with stories of growing up unique, sang “Moving on Up,” which not only blew the roof off the joint, but also served notice that a major star was marching onto the scene in New York cabaret.
But it was close. Razor-sharp close. Hot on her heels in the scoring were Lisa Yaeger (the 1st Runner Up) and Wendy Russell (the 2nd Runner Up). Yaeger, the adorable mom from Union County in New Jersey, who, like all the others, learned how to outdo herself during the 12-week contest, is the relative veteran in the Top 3, having already earned a 2013 MAC nomination for Best Debut. Russell, a native New Yorker who’s been a voice teacher and frequent back-up vocalist for 15 years, threw off her glasses (and took off the gloves) during the contest, revealing a soaring alto and a disarming gift for connecting with deep heart and intelligence.
REVIEWS FOR “WHERE HAVE I BEEN ALL MY LIFE”…
What the Critics are Saying:
“Showcasing her considerable acting chops, Russell delivers one of the most emotionally devastating moments of the evening–a brilliant mash up of “For No One” (Lennon/McCartney) into Carly Simon’s “Comin’ Around Again,” powerfully sung as a gut wrenching internalized monologue of a cornered distraught housewife.” & “Musical Director Steven Ray Watkins on piano and harmonious vocal backups and Director Lennie Watts collaborated successfully (with Russell) on uniquely tailored arrangements that spotlighted Russell’s exquisite voice, refreshing humility, and simple “less is more” approach to life thereby giving greater clarity and drama to the evening”. – Billie Roe/Broadway World.com
“Russell’s life story is distilled and intelligently communicated in text and song with both gravitas and humor. Russell is a singer’s singer. She has a clear, direct soprano voice, capable of going big and bold when necessary; yet, she seems more comfortable in a laid back zone, concentrating more on interpretation than vocal power. At that skill, Russell excels. With “No Rain” (Blind Melon), “Stop Time” (Maltby/Shire), and “When I Look in Your Eyes” (Leslie Bricusse), her phrasing and interpretive abilities were particularly heightened.” – Marilyn Lester/Cabaret Scenes
Other Misc Reviews:
REVIEW: “Under the Covers” series and my take on Barbra Streisands “People” Album
“Steven also is at the keys for WENDY RUSSELL’s thoughtful and sublime, mature and marvelous tour of the Barbra Streisand People album. Put aside any preconceived notions about the toughness of the challenge of tackling superstar territory. Though Wendy is a fan, she’s too smart and talented to settle for copying the trademark stylings, or being radically different, just to show she can be. In any case, that LP was just full of classy show tunes: fine and dandy songs like “Fine and Dandy,” and two written for Funny Girl: the title track and one that didn’t get into the show, “Absent Minded Me.” With a trio likewise not aping the arrangements, there’s a freshness here, but those who know the original album will appreciate the respect being shown. It’s a win/win and Wendy is a winner all the way, and it’s wonderful to let your ears be treated to her lovely and luscious sounds, imbued with real heart. Sunday at 5pm is the time that will be set aside for wise People. No tricks, just talent.” Rob Lester/NiteLife Exchange
REVIEWS: “GraceNotes” CD – Track # 4/Wendy Russell singing ‘A Change In Me’
“Wendy Russell, a singer of great depth (and great “chops”) brings a banquet of skills to the table for “A Change in Me.” This song, added for the Broadway score of Beauty and the Beast (Alan Menken/ Tim Rice) is illuminated and illuminating in this mature and moving performance that throbs with life and self-awareness. Out of context of the moment in the story, it becomes more universal and thus more powerful.” Rob Lester / Talkin‘ Broadway
“Grace amusingly introduces Wendy Russell as “leaving for Disney World” but Russell’s straightforward vocal on “A Change in Me” (Alan Menken/Tim Rice) more suggests she could be Broadway bound.” Noah Tree/Cabaret Scenes