Laura Ellis: Jazz in the Shadows—Songs of Film Noir

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Laura Ellis

Jazz in the Shadows—Songs of Film Noir

Feinstein’s at the Nikko, San Francisco, CA, January 21, 2016

Reviewed by Steve Murray for Cabaret Scenes

Laura-Ellis-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212The archetype of the femme fatale was etched in our psyches through song and film images as far back as the 1920s. The stock image of the seductive, mysterious and often dangerous character is vividly brought to life in this wonderfully crafted show by Laura Ellis.

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Wrapped tightly in a black satin gown and with her flowing red hair, the beguiling Ellis channels the atmosphere and dark themes of the music, with excellent accompaniment by arranger/pianist John Rodby and bassist Aaron Germaine.

Opening with “I’ve Been Kissed Before” (Lester Lee/Bob Russell), Rita Hayworth’s seductive number from the film Gilda, Ellis playfully sets the tone for the evening’s delights.  The sumptuous ballad “Somewhere in the Night” (Milton Raskin/Billy May) the Naked City theme, is delivered in Ellis’ clear and vibrant alto. A cover of Dinah Washington’s hit “Blue Gardenia” (Lee/Russell), the angry tango “Here Lies Love,” “Laura” (Johnny Mercer/David Raksin), and a cover of Randy Newman’s “Guilty” find Ellis working all aspects of the genre: the wronged woman, the seductress, the dangerous and the vamp.

Her strong vocals elevate “Temptation” (Nacio Herb Brown/Arthur Freed), the bluesy “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You” (Andy Razaf/Don Redman) and a cover of what Ellis calls her “pissed-off Betty Grable” on “Once Too Often” (James V. Monaco/Mack Gordon). Rodby’s lyrical piano runs add to the noir aspect of the complete package that Ellis has created.

The femme fatale image still continues in our modern culture and Ellis’ delightful show refreshes our memories of its origins.

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Steve Murray

Always interested in the arts, Steve was encouraged to begin producing and, in 1998, staged four, one-man vehicles starring San Francisco's most gifted performers. In 1999, he began the Viva Variety series, a live stage show with a threefold mission to highlight, support, and encourage gay and gay-friendly art in all the performance forms, to entertain and document the shows, and to contribute to the community by donating proceeds to local non-profits. The shows utilized the old variety show style popularized by his childhood idol Ed Sullivan. He’s produced over 150 successful shows, including parodies of Bette Davis’s gothic melodramedy Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte and Joan Crawford’s very awful Trog. He joined Cabaret Scenes 2007 and enjoys the writing and relationships he’s built with very talented performers.