Laura Freeman & Jeff Dean: The Heart and Soul of Hoagy Carmichael

| October 12, 2017

Laura Freeman & Jeff Dean

The Heart and Soul of Hoagy Carmichael

Davenport’s, Chicago, IL, August 26, 2017

Reviewed by Carla Gordon for Cabaret Scenes

Laura Freeman & Jeff Dean

The engaging Heart and Soul of Hoagy Carmichael begins with four noteworthy Hoosiers plunking out “Heart and Soul” on the piano. Said Hoosiers are Jeff Dean, Laura Freeman, musical director Beckie Menzie, and an unseen, yet much present Hoagland Carmichael. Composer (and sometimes lyricist) Carmichael collaborated with many lyricists from the icons to the one-song wonders—and produced noteworthy standards and a few intriguing novelty songs.

Freeman’s pairing of “Star Dust” (lyrics: Mitchell Parish) and “Skylark” (lyrics: Johnny Mercer) was lush and well sung. (“Sklyark” has become a signature song for Freeman.) Looking relaxed under the crushed fedora that channeled Carmichael, Dean effectively paired the lesser-known “Small Fry” (lyrics: Frank Loesser) putting a youngster in his proverbial place with the better-known “Lazybones” (Mercer). He had fun with “Hong Kong Blues” (lyrics: Carmichael). It’s an interesting song because today the ethnic stereotyping would likely offend, but clearly reflected the culture of Hoagy’s time. Dean was impressive as he pulled off the speed delivery of the dense, funny “The Monkey Song” (lyrics: Carmichael).

Our cadre of musical Hoosiers shared some sentimental moments in “Can’t Get Indiana Off My Mind” (lyrics: Robert DeLeon). Freeman honored the images of the timeless “The Nearness of You” (lyrics: Ned Washington) beautifully. Another highlight was the well-harmonized duet of “Billy-a-Dick” (lyrics: Paul Francis Webster) featuring the “Laura Freeman Country Band,” namely Freeman making us chuckle through her washboard and kazoo “instrumental” interlude. Freeman also reflected well on the rural sensibilities of “Moon Country” (lyrics: Mercer and Carmichael). Musical director Menzie soloed on “Georgia on My Mind” (lyrics: Stuart Gorrell) that captured both its languid feel and the deep longing for home.  Freeman and Dean have different performing styles—her’s reflecting her musical theater background; his sometimes loosey-goosey conversational riffs. Yet they make an entertaining pair as they share plenty of smart-ass and obvious mutual affection. They made us enjoy the nearness of Hoagy. “Two Sleepy People” (lyrics: Loesser) delivered by the duo leaning back to back was the perfect closer.

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Category: Cabaret Reviews, Chicago Cabaret Reviews, Regional

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