Denise Tomasello

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Denise Tomasello

Skokie Theatre, Skokie, IL, May 28, 2016

Reviewed by Carla Gordon for Cabaret Scenes

Denise-Tomasello-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212Many among us miss nightclubs. We recall Rita Hayworth as Gilda with flowing tresses, the gowns that show curves and bare midriff or shoulders. We’re happy to put that blame on Mame. Think of Sophie Tucker smartassing her music director, the band, and pals in the audience.  If you want those moments back, check out Denise Tomasello.
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She started working clubs at 19, ultimately becoming the reigning queen of Chicago’s cabaret corridor in its heyday.  She sings with sass and plenty of heart, working a room like a Daley machine alderman. When Tomasello spends a good portion of each show sashaying around the venue kissing bald heads, fussing over relatives, and kibitzing with her show biz pals, we feel the aura of the clubs.

Her shtick is “It’s all about me!” (made clear in her opener, “Let’s Hear It for Me,” and in parody lyrics written with Bob Moreen to “I’m the Greatest Star” and “I’m Still Here”), but she certainly gets the folks involved. Most reliable in her lower register, Tomasello can deliver a lyric with meaning as evident in the challenging, multi-layered “At the Ballet.” She fully plumbs both bitter and sweet in Edward Kleban’s complex poem (music by Marvin Hamlisch, from A Chorus Line). From there, she can quickly turn on her wise guy belt in songs like “Big Spender.” Her more recent programs have teamed her up with her one-time (and long-time) musical director/accompanist Russ Long. He gets that Tomasello will loosen up and smartass the audience for as long as she likes. He knows when to give her music and when to lay back. In his piano solo, which enabled a costume change for Tomasello, his cascading jazz riffs dazzled the crowd. Speaking of costume change, Tomasello’s second act gown is a wowzer, with its sparkly beads and see-through lacy midriff. Sidemen Jim Cox on bass and Phil Gatteau on percussion added to the fine musicality and fun.
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When you feel a yen for the nightclub experience, grab your mink stole and find out where Tomasello is appearing.

Carla Gordon

Carla Gordon is a singer/songwriter, director, and producer. The Chicago Tribune cited her among “Chicago’s most accomplished cabaret performers….a major player in Chicago cabaret.” Reviewer Pam Peterson called her “Honey-voiced wisecracker!” Ageless Magazine called her performance as Sophie tucker, “A gem!” Gordon writes custom material for singers nationwide. Her flagship show, "Blacklisted," featuring songs made famous by artists blacklisted under McCarthyism, has toured to critical acclaim. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Chicago Cabaret Professionals and on the Advisory Board of the Skokie Theater. Her songs air on WFMT’s Midnight Special and are being performed performed by cabaret artists nationwide.