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
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
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
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
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
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: 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.