Ain’t We Got Fun: The Richard Whiting Songbook
Metropolitan Room, NYC, May 11, 2016
Reviewed by Marilyn Lester for Cabaret Scenes
If the air was electric before, it was positively supercharged after the debut of Carols Woods’ Richard Whiting show, Ain’t We Got Fun. From the moment Woods stepped on stage with “One Hour with You” (words: Leo Robin) and “Breezin’ Along with the Breeze” (words: Haven Gillespie, Seymour Simons), it was apparent this undertaking was going to be a spectacular winner. To start with, there was delightful motivation: the show was a family affair—a tribute not only to Richard Whiting, but to Woods’ mentor Margaret Whiting, daughter of the composer, and her friendship with Debbi Whiting, Margaret’s daughter (in attendance). Richard Whiting died too young; when he passed in February 1938 he was only 46 years old. Who can say what he could have written had he lived, but what he left was a prolific body of work fittingly honored in Woods’ performance.
“My Ideal” (co-composed by Whiting with Newell Chase, another Leo Robin lyric) was Margaret Whiting’s first recording and her first gold record and, in her interpretation, Woods took it from gold to platinum. Further into the set with “Have You Got Any Castles, Baby?” (Johnny Mercer’s words) it was absolutely apparent that Woods had made the Whiting songbook her own (also evident with the newly discovered trunk song “A Day Away from Town,” a collaboration with lyricist Gus Kahn, recently introduced by Woods). In this endeavor the diva was aided not only by her own innate skills and sensibilities as a singer and actress, but by the musical direction of accompanist Hubert “Tex” Arnold. Arnold was Margaret Whiting’s music director for 23 years—part of the family. His updated arrangements (such as a subtle Latin beat to “My Ideal”) brought the (mostly 1920s) material into the 21st century, beautifully crafted to Woods’ style and persona. Arnold’s playing was inspired, with a clean yet lively and lyrical execution of the keys.
Woods zestfully sang many of Whiting’s well-known songs, such as “Too Marvelous for Words” (words by Mercer as an appealing duet with Arnold), “Beyond the Blue Horizon” (words by Leo Robin, music co-credited to W. Franke Harling), and the closer of the set, “Ain’t We Got Fun” (words by Gus Kahn and Ray Egan). She delivered the touchingly sweet “She’s Funny That Way (I Got a Woman, Crazy for Me)” (based on a love letter Whiting wrote to his wife, Eleanor, the lyric is by Whiting and the music set by Neil Moret aka Charles Daniels), with deep feeling. Woods’ stage training gives her the ability to reach into the lyric, be expressive and connect with the audience in a very natural, comfortable way. She’s also got a great comedic sense and wonderful timing, demonstrated especially in “Sittin’ on the Curbstone Blues” (written with Haven Gillespie and Seymour Simons). With just the right amount of banter between Woods and Arnold, the night was about song, as well it should be. Scott Coulter directed with great touches, keeping the pace moving nicely. Saadi Zain on bass was impressive with subtle bowing especially, while drummer Steve Singer provided beautifully nuanced and supportive percussion.