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Cabaret Review

Whitfield Works Magic With Tunes of Rodgers, Hart

May 07, 1999|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's a rare moment when all the elements of a performance--the words, the music and the interpretation--come together in perfect balance. But that's exactly what happened Tuesday night when singer Weslia Whitfield opened a 10-night run at the Cinegrill in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

Whitfield has long been a favorite with cabaret audiences, and the imaginative, often swinging musical settings provided by her pianist/musical director and husband, Mike Greensil, have placed her in an attractive jazz context as well.

But neither Whitfield nor Greensil appear to have been content to find a comfortable musical slot and stay there. In each of their annual appearances in Southern California (they are based in San Francisco), they have taken their music into ever more subtle areas of creative expression. The current appearance is dedicated to the music of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, and serves as the warmup for a recording of the same repertoire to be made later this month.

And what they are doing with Rodgers and Hart is sheer magic, a definitive illustration of how to realize the art music qualities in popular song. In three numbers in particular--"You Are Too Beautiful," "Ten Cents a Dance" and "The Lady Is a Tramp"--Whitfield transformed the songs into dramatic cameos. Beautifully sustaining their musical qualities, often via pure, airy high notes and unexpected little melodic twists, she used her fluent singing skills as a medium for storytelling, clearly delineating the inner character tales implicit in each work.

She found the sardonic Hart wit in some tunes--"I Like to Recognize the Tune," for example--and his marvelous descriptive qualities (the colorful, mood-evoking lyrics of "Manhattan") in others.

These extraordinary mini-dramas were accomplished within musical frameworks filled with sly musicality and an unerring sense of swing. Greensil, immensely aided by the virtuosic bass playing of Michael Moore, accompanied in a fashion that both supported and challenged Whitfield's musicality, producing results as multilayered and intricate as the voice-piano interaction in a Schubert song. Working in combination as a trio--voice, piano and bass--Whitfield, Greensil and Moore were brilliant, an incomparable blending of musical intelligence and dramatic sophistication.

* Weslia Whitfield at the Cinegrill in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd. Tonight through May 15. 8 p.m. $15 cover charge and $10 minimum beverage or dessert purchase. (Minimum is waived for dinner customers at Theodore's Restaurant in the hotel.) (323) 466-7000.

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