Lina Koutrakos & Rick Jensen: Two for the Road

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Lina Koutrakos and Rick Jensen

Two for the Road

The Gaslight Theater, St. Louis, MO, October 25, 2015

Reviewed by Chuck Lavazzi for Cabaret Scenes

Lina-Koutrakos-Rick-Jensen-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212Lina Koutrakos and Rick Jensen have become familiar figures on the local cabaret scene over the years, first as regular faculty members in the St. Louis Cabaret Conference, and then as directors and advisers for many local performers. So their Two for the Road show last week as part of the fall edition of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival was something of a homecoming.

And what a joyous homecoming it was! Koutrakos and Jensen have been performing as creative partners for decades, giving their work on stage the kind of easy camaraderie that comes only with experience. It made for an evening that easily drew the audience into their musical conversation and quickly dissolved the fabled fourth wall. Together, they unfailingly delivered a mix of passion, wit, and polished musicianship that was unbeatable.

The evening opened with a set of Jensen’s original material that showed his versatility as a songwriter.

Straightforward patter songs like “Hi Ho, That’s the German Way” rubbed shoulders with introspective ballads like “Long Cold Fall” (with its Randy Newmanesque harmonies) and the inspiring “Go Ahead and Dream,” from the 2011 film That’s What I Am.

I found “Amanda Sang,” a little character study inspired by Jensen’s youth in Minneapolis, particularly noteworthy, in part because of a lyric that could serve as a mini-lesson for cabaret singers: “She could never go wrong/Because her heart was in her song.”  And the ballad “In Passing Years” (part of the encore set), with its ruminations on the enduring value of friendship, remains one of my favorites.

Having worked with Jensen in St. Louis Cabaret Conference sessions in the past, I already knew about his skills as a songwriter and pianist. What I didn’t realize was what an engaging and funny storyteller he was. The between-songs patter in his set was consistently entertaining and often hilarious.

Koutrakos brought her share of humor to the show as well, most notably with the Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh classic “When in Rome (I Do as the Romans Do).” But as anyone who has seen her perform would know, she was at her most formidable in songs like “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” (a torch song in her hands) and the powerfully affirmative “Life Is” (Kander & Ebb; Zorba).

Her medley of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” and Jensen’s “New York City Is My Home” was a remarkable combination of poignancy and affirmation. And her dark, smoky voice was an ideal match for the elusive tragedy that lurks just beneath the surface of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe.” When Koutrakos unleashes the smoldering passion that is her musical forte, she is without equal.

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.