Joan Curto and Ensemble: Ella and Lena: The Ladies and Their Music

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Joan Curto and Ensemble

Ella and Lena: The Ladies and Their Music

Auditorium Theater, Chicago, IL, November 17, 2017

Reviewed by Carla Gordon for Cabaret Scenes

Joan Curto

Director Joan Curto (pictured) gathered bright Chicago cabaret, jazz, and musical theater stars to create a heady brew featuring talented artists from these genres. Her blending of artists associated with differing genres offered some unexpected gifts from the artists: The “cabaraiders” were scatting up a storm, and the “jazzers” were telling the stories with aplomb.

Preceded by charming film clips of both Fitzgerald and Horne (in an effective montage created by Tom Orland) and backed by Rich Daniel’s City Lights Orchestra (this year with better volume balance than in last year’s Cole Porter salute), Ella and Lena: The Ladies and Their Music delighted its large, SRO audience.  Musical highlights were numerous and well varied. Among those was Curto’s own chest-to-the-wind delivery of “Cry Me a River.

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” Beckie Menzie’s solo “Lullaby of Birdland” built gracefully from easy reflection to big, bouncy jazz. Sophie Grimm’s offering of “(If You Can’t Sing It) You’ll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini)” brought just the right amount of scat and just the right amount of sass. Menzie and Tom Michael found the right bounce and groove in “Ella Be Good.” (And, yes, messing with Ira Gershwin’s lyrics was just fine.) Paul Marinaro’s silky delivery of “When the Sun Comes Out” journeyed to the heart of  Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler’s vision. Joining guitarist Andy Brown, whose jazz riffs provided an elegant framework, Marinaro delivered a lovely rendition of “Midnight Sun” (melody by Lionel Hampton and Sonny Burke, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer).

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E. Faye Butler’s less-is-more introduction to “Yesterday When I Was Young” was a grand surprise from this musical theater stalwart who is best known for power belting and comedy. Tammy McCann’s supple vocal instrument brought bounce to “I Got Rhythm,” richness and femininity to “Honeysuckle Rose,” and open-hearted grace to Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday.” Butler, Curto, McCann, and Menzie joined forces in the show’s powerful eleven-o’clock number in a compelling arrangement interweaving “Stormy Weather” and “The Man That Got Away.” Closing with the ensemble warbling “The Lady Is a Tramp” felt just right.

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.