Carol Woods, Pre- Follies … Feinstein Himself at Feinstein’s

Carol Woods, Pre- Follies

In bum times like these, when the movies lull and Broadway

naps, one can often find solace in music. Buxom and brassy, Carol Woods is a Broadway veteran (and one of the stars

of the upcoming revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies ) with a voice as big as her girdle and a talent for letting

it rip on pop songs and blues that almost always end with audiences on their

feet yelling for more. From Smokey Joe’s

Cafe to Chicago , she’s been

stealing the show for years, and from the many times I have worked with her on

the sold-out “Lyrics and Lyricists” shows at the 92nd Street Y, I can testify

to her ability to turn a center spot into a star turn at the drop of a hat. It

is, therefore, quite natural that she would be drawn to the world of cabaret

with an act designed to show off her range, versatility and talent. The

downside is that the misguided act she is presenting at Arci’s (through Feb.

24) sabotages her true identity so often that you want to ask the old What’s My Line? question, “Will the real

Carol Woods please stand up?”

Like so many fine actresses who sing, she hasn’t learned to

rely on her inner resources without the

control of a strong director. This may be a logical concern in the

theater, but not in cabaret. In the intimate confines of a club with a stage

the size of a file folder, Ms. Woods would be wise to follow a few basic rules:

Don’t try to be a cross between Dinah Washington and Leontyne Price. Just tell

us who you are. Sing the songs you love. Ditch the pretentious patter and the

dumb one-liners and share a couple of personal anecdotes, skip the narrative

song setups and let your chops do the rest. Throw us a curve; we can take it.

But above all, trust the material and be yourself. We are here for one reason

only-to see and hear you, not the work of your director, not the songs somebody

chose that do not fit your style and personality, not the forced and unnatural

dialogue somebody else wrote to flesh out an “act” that could fit a dozen other

performers better.

I’ve heard so many noisy singers who scream, shout and

shriek their way to oblivion that volume holds no interest for me whatsoever.

Ms. Woods has plenty of volume, and she knows what to do with it. She has

lived, and she knows about phrasing. She can wound your heart on a ballad, but

Francesca Blumenthal’s lovely “Lies of Handsome Men” is not the right song for a red-hot mama to use as an example.

She can modulate and phrase delicately, with perfect enunciation, but Rupert

Holmes’ “The People That You Never Get to Love” is better suited to ladies with

more vulnerability and fewer vocal dynamics. And I don’t know what “Alfie” and

“Hey There” are doing in this act, not by any stretch of the imagination.

If you’re as unique as Carol Woods, why recycle the soil

Dionne Warwick and Rosemary Clooney have already plowed? I’ve heard her stop

shows and shatter crystal, but in a cabaret act that showcases too many

secondary aspects of her diverse talent, it’s only when she gets around to

Harold Arlen’s “Blues in the Night” and “Chair Song,” a rocking

rhythm-and-blues number made famous by the great Ruth Brown (“If I can’t sell

it, I’m gonna sit down on it / I ain’t gonna give it away!”) that the warmth,

humor and pounce her fans have come to expect really break through.

Rumors drifting out of

the rehearsals for the forthcoming all-star Broadway revival of Follies inform us that she is burning up

the floor with a volcanic version of “Who’s That Woman?,” a question that you

could understandably ask after seeing Carol Woods’ current act at Arci’s. For a

definitive answer, I guess we’ll have to wait for Follies .

Feinstein Himself at

Feinstein’s

One of the best things about Michael Feinstein is the way he

plays his audiences like harp strings. In his current Valentine’s Day interlude

at the Regency (through Feb. 17), he sings love songs with an exciting

six-piece band, occasionally taking over the piano keys himself for the

dreamier chords he plays so well. Reaching out over a sea of blue hair and

walking sticks, he’s in his element.

On the Sammy Cahn–Jimmy

Van Heusen evergreen “The Second Time Around,” when he sings the familiar lyric

“Love, like youth, is wasted on the young,” they sigh and nod knowingly. With

the muted trumpet lines by seasoned sideman Joe Shepley, even the most jaded

cynic will probably start nodding appreciatively, too. At these prices, these

are his people and these are their songs. They hum. They sing the tags. They

drool over “My Romance.” They swoon over the ossified “My Funny Valentine” in a

“Harry, he’s playing our song” kind of way, unaware that the other wives in the

room are looking at their balding husbands and thinking the same thing. It’s

all vanilla, but it works.

Even taking “This Can’t Be Love” at the speed of a Kentucky

Derby winner, Mr. Feinstein cannot swing. But he can always be counted on to

assemble the best musicians, investigate the most intelligent lyrics and keep

old songs alive. What’s not to like? These days, while most performers serve up

three-alarm chili, Michael Feinstein settles for blancmange.

Peter Marshall, Boysinger.com

For pure,

out-of-this-world singing in the style of the big-band crooners, I urge you to

investigate I’m Glad There Is You , a

sensational new CD by Peter Marshall. Yes, the one and only handsome, affable

Peter Marshall, whom you loved for years as the best host in the history of Hollywood Squares , has really recaptured the lush sounds of the good

old days of Crosby, Sinatra and Torme. His vocal stylings have been one of the

best-kept secrets in music. (He’s played the big rooms in Vegas and co-starred

with Julie Harris in the ill-fated Sammy Cahn–Jimmy Van Heusen show Skyscraper , but his talents are largely

unknown to New Yorkers.) This is his long-awaited first solo CD. It is a

marvel.

If he sounds thrillingly

like the great Dick Haymes, there’s an obvious reason. Mr. Haymes was once

married to film star Joanne Dru, who was Mr. Marshall’s sister, and his

laid-back, uncluttered, no-frills phrasing has been a very real influence. The

14 cuts on this remarkable collection reflect that kind of purity, with

gorgeous arrangements by Ray Ellis, Alan Copeland, Sammy White and Larry White

and a 46-piece orchestra that comprises some of the greatest studio musicians

the West Coast has to offer. Mr. Marshall sounds as relaxed in that setting as

Sinatra in one of his legendary 4 a.m. sessions with Nelson Riddle, and the

phrasing is just to die for. Especially on “Everything Happens To Me”-I have

never heard notes bent like that on this song. In fact, I have never heard the

song sung with so much hip freshness.

The perfect combination

of voice (as warm or cool as the songs demand), brilliant arrangements, great

material and easy, conversational phrasing make this a treasure. I am so jazzed

up by the chuckles, the occasional been-around crack in the voice, the low lush

dives on words like “love” and the first-rate songs-the Burton Lane–E.Y.

Harburg jewel “Poor You” has always been an overlooked favorite of mine-that

this CD has rarely wandered far from my stereo since it arrived. “Oh, You Crazy

Moon,” “This Heart of Mine,” “Fools Rush In,” “I’ll Close My Eyes,” “I’m Glad

There is You”–the repertoire is faultless, unhackneyed and interpreted with fresh

vision.

There are new

discoveries, too: “Night Life,” a song unknown to me (by Willie Nelson, of all

people!) turns out to be the most swinging thing on the list. The string intro

on “The More I See You” is worth rewinding just to hear the arrangement before

the voice comes in. It all has a wisdom, maturity and appeal that makes the

material timeless. I know there’s a tongue-in-cheek theme (boy singer from the

World War II days of radio transcriptions, like the weekly show Dick Haymes and

Helen Forrest used to do for war bonds), but the hip singing transcends that

theme and emerges as contemporary as any vocal stylist can sound today.

Although there are plans afoot to release this CD in stores,

Mr. Marshall is presently distributing it himself. The only way you can get it

at the time of this writing is via the Internet. Mr. Marshall has his

ownWebsite: http://www.boysinger.com. Log on for complete details on how to order; he

ships immediately. Trust me on this: It is one CD that no lover of the art of

the American popular song can afford to be without.

Now isn’t it time for him

to play a New York room like Feinstein’s at the Regency and reacquaint the

world with what a terrific singer Peter Marshall is? In a crippled world of

honks and screams and terminal laryngitis, listening to the vanishing art of

singing like this is like learning how to walk again after a broken leg.