Reviewed by: Joe Regan Jr.
Janice Hall, whose first cabaret show last year Grand Illusions: the Music of Marlene Dietrich won a 2011 Bistro Award for Best Tribute Show and who is a current nominee for Best Female Vocalist for the 2011 MAC Awards, performed a new show I’d Rather Be Doing This…” at the Metropolitan Room March 5th. Hall has two superb musicians with her on this show, Matthew Martin Ward, her music director and pianist, and Tony Romano on guitar. The dazzling performance is directed by MAC nominated director Peter Napolitano.
Beginning with “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” Hall made an elegant entrance and sang that Oklahoma classic with class, control, and elegant attention to lyrics. She announced this show was going to be a series of her personal favorite songs without a central theme except that she loves these songs. She told us how many songs Cole Porter wrote about Paris, but the one she chose was a rarer one, “You Don’t Know Paree” from 1929; then she traveled to Rome and did a lyrically funny “When in Rome.” Staying in Italy, she gave us an operatic “Mala Femmena” and topped that with a risqué “Bet He Can Tango” by Nancy White.
Robert Telson’s “Calling You” led into a super romantic “Wild Is The Wind” (Tiomkin-Washington). Her beautiful voice went effortlessly into the stratosphere.
Hall discussed how much she loved to sing Piaf songs, and gave us a full description of the meaning of the words to “L’Accordeoniste,” about a woman of the streets who dreams of settling down with the accordion player in a night club, who goes off to war and never returns. Then, in flawless French, which was understood completely because of the translation prior, she used her dramatic chops to enact that song to stunning effect.
A very special treat was a new song written especially for Hall by Ward and Napolitano. “I’d Rather Be Doing This” is a list song with lots of funny items of what she’d rather be doing than having sex or making love:
I’d rather be reading Goethe in German
I’d rather be listening to Ethel Merman
I’d rather be watching That Lady in Ermine
Sex isn’t easy
Winding up as more work than play
Some of those positions
Can feel like they’re auditions
For Cirque du Soleil!
Rather than play with a stud who’s mediocre
I’d rather play a game of stud poker…
Or learn a Bach tocatta…
Or singing La Traviata!
Hall discussed how many strong women Kurt Weill wrote shows and songs about and how, although they were written long ago, they were as contemporary as if they had been written today. Hall began singing “My Ship” in pure high notes with only Romano’s guitar backing. After one full chorus, Hall dropped Romano’s accompaniment and, with Ward on the piano pounding away the persistent Weill rhythms, Hall plunged strongly into “Pirate Jenny” (with the Blitzstein lyrics). Hall gave us an all out theatrical performance of that classic song but, when she reached the climatic end, she pulled back to “My Ship” in her sweet high voice with Romano again, as Ward played “Pirate Jenny” as a counter melody. There was only one word for this choice: “Genius!“ Hall’s performance was electrifying! Even though I have seen many singers including Ms. Lenya sing “Pirate Jenny” and “My Ship” live, Janice Hall’s will long be remembered as one of the most stirring interpretations. If this were the only great moment in this show, it would make this show a must see but as I have described, the entire show is a real pleasure.
Hall shifted gears again on her last number before the encores. It was “As We Stumble Along” from Drowsy Chaperone (Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison) and she gave us a completely hysterically funny performance with operatic quotes in that survival song.
The special encore this night was a mini musical of Hall’s Dietrich tribute show, with some narrative and reprises of “Illusions,” “Boys in the Back Room,” “La Vie En Rose” (in French, another Piaf reference), a sexy wild performance of “Laziest Gal in Town” on the piano, the wonderful “Das Lied is Aus (Don‘t Ask Me Why),” in German with Hall’s own English lyrics, and of course “Falling In Love Again” in German and English.
Janice Hall’s I’d Rather Be Doing This . . . will be repeated Wednesday, April 18 at 9:30 pm at the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22 Street, New York, New York. Most of her performances have been played to sold out houses full of singers and musicians because the word is out. I strongly advise you to call 212-206-0440 for reservations or reserve on line at www.metropolitanroom.com