Chris Limber and Friends: Riffs in a Set of 10

  • Post author:
  • Reading time:4 mins read

Chris Limber and Friends

Riffs in a Set of 10

The Gaslight Theater, St. Louis, MO, October 20, 2014

Reviewed by Chuck Lavazzi for Cabaret Scenes

Chris-Limber-Riffs-in-a-Set-of-10-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212I first saw veteran St. Louis actor/director Chris Limber’s (pictured) loving and literate tribute to the hipster attitude of the Beat Generation last summer at the St. Lou Fringe Festival. At the time, I was pretty much blown away by the way this ingenious hybrid jazz/cabaret act knitted together Big Band and Great American Songbook classics from the ’20s through the ’40s with his original image-rich poetic soliloquies that sounded like they would have been right at home coming from a skinny guy with a goatee, black turtleneck, and shades in an underground coffeehouse circa 1958.

The expanded version (around 16 songs instead of the original 10 that gave the show its name) was unveiled at the Gaslight Theater and, Daddy, it was cool. A masterful cast-iron blast from the past, Jackson. Debonair was in the air everywhere.


The songs covered a wide range, from hits like “Basin Street Blues,” “The Joint Is Jumpin’,” and “How High the Moon” (with new and gently satirical lyrics), to lesser-known novelties like “The Frim Fram Sauce,” which was introduced by Nat King Cole back in the ’40s. That famously chilling song about lynching, “Strange Fruit” (recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939), provided a strong dramatic contrast in a show dominated by a mood of spirited playfulness.

Those numbers are still here and still solid. They’re joined by the likes of the Milton Ager/Jack Yellen novelty “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)”—recorded by everybody from Billy Murray to Van Halen since its 1924 debut and given a martini-dry delivery here by bassist Dave Torretta. The wonderful scat interlude from the original show is still here, as is the droll encore, “Jeepers Creepers,” a Harry Warren/Johnny Mercer jazz standard from 1938.

As he did last summer, Limber surrounded himself with other fine musicians for this show. I have already mentioned Torretta. Also on hand was Michelle Isam on sax and virtuoso jazz vocals. In fact, the musical side of the show was pretty much under her control. She was giving the downbeats and generally controlling the musical flow. Good choice; Isam’s musical credentials are impeccable.

The always-reliable Joe Dreyer was at the piano.

That was also a good choice; he’s an accomplished musical director with a real feel for jazz. Rounding out this incredibly talented combo was Rose Fisher, whose supple and fluid vocals added so much to the show. She’s definitely someone I’d like to see more of on the local cabaret scene.

I don’t know what’s next for the latest incarnation of Riffs. Perhaps a run at the newly remodeled Jazz Bistro is in order. The show is, perhaps, just a little too self-contained to really work as cabaret.

To me, it ultimately felt more like a jazz act, so I think it might be very much at home either at the Bistro or at the Sheldon Concert Hall.

It certainly deserves more than the one appearance it has made so far and cries out for a larger audience.

Chuck Lavazzi

Chuck Lavazzi is the producer for the arts calendars and senior performing arts critic at 88.1 KDHX, the host of The Cabaret Project’s monthly open mic night, and entirely to blame for the Stage Left blog at He’s a member of the Music Critics Association of North America and the St. Louis Theater Circle. Chuck has been an actor, sound designer, and occasional director since roughly the Bronze Age. He has presented his cabaret show Just a Song at Twilight: the Golden Age of Vaudeville, at the Missouri History Museum and the Kranzberg Center.