Rick Jensen: 60 Years in 60 Minutes

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Rick Jensen

60 Years in 60 Minutes

The Kranzberg Center, St. Louis, MO, October 6, 2018

Reviewed by Chuck Lavazzi for Cabaret Scenes

Rick Jesnen

Although he’s based in New York City, singer/songwriter/teacher Rick Jensen has been a frequent visitor to St. Louis, both as a performer and as a music director and pianist for a number of local singers. So, it only seems right that he came to town to celebrate his 60th birthday with a special show at the Kranzberg Center, produced by Robert Breig’s Mariposa Artists.

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For the audience of cabaret lovers (including several members of the Jensen clan) it was a festive occasion indeed.

Titled 60 Years in 60 Minutes, the show is a mini-autobiography liberally illustrated with 14 original songs that demonstrate Jensen’s wide range as both songwriter and performer, as well as his virtuosity at the piano. “Spring Fever” (with its Randy Newman-esque harmonies), for example, muses poetically on autumn as both a meteorological and personal season. “Coney Island” and “Tonight, New York City” are lyrical tributes to his adopted hometown that echo Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen while still being uniquely Rick Jensen.

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And “Amanda Sang,” the more straightforward story song of the evening, includes a lyric that could serve as a mini-lesson for cabaret singers: “She could never go wrong/Because her heart was in her song.”  

“Happy Birthday Boy” is a loving tribute to his mother, who “didn’t have a musical bone in her body” and “After All Those Love Songs” is a powerful ballad that was made even more so by the voice of St. Louis’s own Dionna Raedeke. There were also many lighter moments in the show and one outright comedy number inspired by “certain events that took place in the Jensen household” in Minnesota, “Hi Ho, That’s the Jensen Way.” 

That one, by the way, started out life as “Hi Ho, That’s the German Way.” Jensen gave it a rewrite for this show, presumably because he knew he’d have family members in the audience. That could have been the musical equivalent of home movies, but Jensen is too good a songwriter for that. It was a hoot.

Linking all of them were anecdotes about his childhood in rural Minnesota and his coming of age—literally and musically—in New York City, delivered with self-deprecating wit and wisdom. Jensen is a performer who engages quickly and easily with his audience, so that his show soon felt like friendly chat.

The show was expertly directed by his long-time collaborator (and cabaret legend in her own right) Lina Koutrakos. Like Jensen, she has taught cabaret master classes and has done many solo shows of her own, and her expertise was clearly visible in the pacing and dramatic shape of the show. 

60 Years in 60 Minutes concluded with one of my favorite Jensen originals, “In Passing Years.” I liked this meditation on the enduring value of friendship so much I learned it and performed it with him two years ago during the master class he and Koutrakos offer every fall on the island of Mykonos. But nobody does it quite like him.

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 stageleft-stlouis.blogspot.com. 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.