Juliet Ewing: Rise Up Singing

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Juliet Ewing

Rise Up Singing

Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, June 19, 2024

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Juliet Ewing

On paper, Rise Up Singing doesn’t sound too exciting. It was another in a very long line of George and Ira Gershwin tributes with a song list that included some of their best-known compositions and had only one selection that might be considered obscure. But appearances, as they say, can be deceiving. That judgment doesn’t take into account the brilliant and fresh orchestrations by music director Roy Drotos and his on-stage partnership with bassist Michael O’Brian and drummer Jon Berge. There was also the assured direction by Lina Koutrakos, the charm of guest vocalist Patrick Boyd, and, most important, the golden voice and fine dramatic skill of diva Juliet Ewing.

Take, for example, her approach to “Embraceable You”; it was so simple, so genuine. She purred the lyric “come to mama, come to mama, do” in a way that was tender and erotic. Her celebratory take on “Oh, Lady, Be Good” was refashioned as a love song about her relationship with New York: “Oh please have some pity, I’m all alone in this big city.” She brought an honest and surprising interpretation to the verse of “But Not for Me” (she clearly loved lyrics) with a lovely bit of snarkiness before the pathos of the chorus. Another highlight was a fresh take on “How Long Has This Been Going On?”; It was no longer about an innocent kiss; it was the revenge tale of a betrayed woman, and included a new patter section that recalled the work of Peggy Lee (with a bit of Ann-Margret tossed in).

For variety, she brought her theatrical co-star Boyd on stage for two numbers. The first, a jubilant “’S Wonderful,” was just as the title suggested, and their two voices blended effortlessly. The only misstep of the evening was the patter that led into their second duet, which became a bit precious and obvious before they launched into “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” The number finally gained some traction, and it  was fun.

But the best was yet to come. First was the absolute simplicity of “Someone to Watch Over Me,” delivered with equal parts of stillness and yearning. She allowed the emotions of this gorgeous song to speak for themselves. Then came the highlight of the evening, “Summertime” (written with DuBose Heyward and Dorothy Heyward), delivered with full diva energy and backed by a musical arrangement that made the trio on stage sound like a symphony orchestra. These were the moments that come rarely in cabaret and make attending all shows worthwhile. Bravo.

Bart Greenberg

Bart Greenberg first discovered cabaret a few weeks after arriving in New York City by seeing Julie Wilson and William Roy performing Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter outdoors at Rockefeller Center. It was instant love for both Ms. Wilson and the art form. Some years later, he was given the opportunity to create his own series of cabaret shows while working at Tower Records. "Any Wednesday" was born, a weekly half-hour performance by a singer promoting a new CD release. Ann Hampton Callaway launched the series. When Tower shut down, Bart was lucky to move the program across the street to Barnes & Noble, where it thrived under the generous support of the company. The series received both The MAC Board of Directors Award and The Bistro Award. Some of the performers who took part in "Any Wednesday" include Barbara Fasano and Eric Comstock, Tony Desare, Andrea Marcovicci, Carole Bufford, the Karens, Akers, Mason and Oberlin, and Julie Wilson. Privately, Greenberg is happily married to writer/photographer Mark Wallis, who as a performance artist in his native England gathered a major following as "I Am Cereal Killer."

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