Pamela Lewis: New York State of Mind: The Songs of Billy Joel

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Pamela Lewis

New York State of Mind: The Songs of Billy Joel

Metropolitan Room, NYC, August 21, 2015

Reviewed by Marilyn Lester for Cabaret Scenes

Pamela-Lewis-Billy-Joel-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212Long Island native Pamela Lewis just loves her fellow Long Islander, Billy Joel, whose work she considers “the soundtrack of my life.” After hearing Lewis interpret some of the choicest material from the Joel songbook with unabashed admiration and enthusiasm, you might wish you were from Long Island, too.

Lewis is a confident singer who’s created very personal arrangements and a unique interpretation of the Joel songbook.

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The opener, “The Entertainer,” set the stylistic tone for the evening, and with “Got to Begin Again” and “The Stranger,” that style was revealed — an almost country style of pop, which works perfectly for her bold, straight-ahead delivery.

The choice to use strings with a brass accent also works very well. With Musical Director and piano man Bill Heller, bassist Ritt Henn, guitarist (and husband) John Hurley, and trumpet player Marcus Parsley, percussion isn’t at all missed. The brass on “Piano Man”/”Captain Jack” and “You May Be Right” was particularly effective, allowing Parsley to shine without overpowering. On “Zanzibar,” the band shifted nicely into a mild, welcome Latin undertone.

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Equally effective was the elimination of the piano entirely on “Just the Way You Are,” followed by a solo piano accompaniment to “Souvenir.”

By changing the tempos and overall inflections of Joel’s music, what Lewis has most successfully done is highlight Joel as a troubadour. The singer brings the lyric — the poetry — of Billy Joel alive. The words take on meaning. “James,” “My Life,” “Stiletto” and “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” particularly showcase Joel’s genius with words.

Pamela Lewis has a pleasant, direct personality. Director Barb Jungr has made the most of it, with one caveat: Lewis’s narrative could be shorter and more cohesive. Yet, from start to finish (with, what else, “New York State of Mind”), Lewis and Joel fans exit into the night very well served.

Marilyn Lester

Marilyn Lester left journalism and commercial writing behind nearly two decades ago to write plays. That branch in the road led to screenwriting, script-doctoring, dramaturgy and producing for the stage. Marilyn has also co-authored, as well as edited, books. It seemed the only world of words she hadn’t conquered was criticism, an opportunity that presented itself via Theater Pizzazz. Marilyn has since sought to widen her scope in this form of writing she especially relishes. Marilyn is a member of the Authors Guild, Dramatists Guild, Women in the Arts and Media and The League of Professional Theater Women.