Steve Murray

Performing Arts Reviews

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Bay Area Cabaret presents Ella Fitzgerald: A Centennial Celebration

Bay Area Cabaret presents Ella Fitzgerald: A Centennial Celebration
Venetian Room, San Francisco, CA, September 24, 2017

Marilyn Levinson and Bay Area Cabaret opened their 14th season in spectacular fashion with a star-studded tribute to the First Lady of Song- Ella Fitzgerald. The hollowed stage of the Venetian Room often hosted Ella during its heyday, so it was lovely to see five accomplished vocalists spin a delightful pastiche of Fitzgerald tunes from her early years with Chick Webb through great composer/bandleaders like Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie.

Opening the show was Tony and Emmy winner Lillias White (The Life, Fela!, Netflix’s The Get Down). Her joy and effervescence radiates from the stage in her rendition of “Blues Skies”, scatting as effortlessly as Ella. Next up was local jazz artist Sony Holland, accompanied by husband Jerry Holland on the guitar. With her deliberate, measured rhythm Sony delivered an expressive “Shadow of Your Smile”.  Janis Siegel, nine-time Grammy winner with the Manhattan Transfer told her story of meeting Miss Fitzgerald then knocked 1939’s “In a Mellow Tone” out of the ballpark. Grammy nominated Soul/Jazz singer Freda Payne (Band of Gold, Bring the Boys Home), was right at home in this gala, having portrayed Ella in her one-woman musical play, Ella: First Lady of Song. Her cover of “You’ve Changed” was carefully crafted and sublime. Amanda King, whose cabaret star is ascending rapidly, sang one of Ella’s early period novelty songs “Vote for Mr. Rhythm” and returned to perform a sensational version of “Moon Ray”.

The performers were backed by musical director Larry Dunlap, bassist Daniel Fabricant and percussionist David Rokeach who provided the rhythms of jazz, swing and pop to the proceedings. Ms. White closed the evening with a rousing rendition of “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing), coaxing audience members to scat the famous ‘do wop, do wop’. The five ladies of song returned for an encore of “How High the Moon’. In her many centennial year celebrations, Ella would’ve been proud of this evening and Bay Area Cabaret has yet another feather in its cap.