The small-ish crowd at Sarasota Music Club’s March meeting/program was treated to a cabaret show given by a lady who really knows how to give a cabaret show. Seventeen of her favorite songs, strung together by a script that gave brief introductions to the songs by telling us a little bit about the origin of the song, or its writers/composers, or the whys behind its inclusion in this group. Plus occasional bits about her life...yes, her husband of 26 years was, in fact, in a hospital in Cleveland at that moment, and she did, in fact, leave his bedside to fly back to Sarasota for this show. Such is the dedication, the Credo of a committed professional...‘I said I’d be there, and dammit, the show will go on!’
Rhonda Liss was the performer, and what a performer she is! (Yeah, I admit, I’d never heard of her before Friday, but we are even on that score, as she’d never heard of me before, either.) A singer with training in opera as well as Broadway, after a full career in both, she still has the chops to sell a song of any type. So, it was a pleasure to hear her ‘take’ on this collection of songs. She has an affinity for songs by Stephen Sondheim, as do I, and she included two extremes from his pen: “Everybody Says Don’t” calls for rapid-fire enunciation and exacting rhythms, while “Children Will Listen” is slow, quiet and soul-searching. Every quick syllable was there in the former, and the deep-thoughts of the latter were given time to take hold in our minds, demanding relating to our world today.
In “You Could Drive A Person Crazy” (Sondheim again), I was reminded of the wonderful singer of an earlier era, Peggy Lee, who excelled at minimalist gestures as she sang...a slightly raised eyebrow, a faint shrug of a shoulder...all expressing a world of emotion as she told the story of the song. All morning, Liss demonstrated this story-telling ability – a master at work.
A wonderful treat came near the end of the morning, when Liss did a spot-on impression of Marlene Dietrich, singing one of her signature songs, “Je Suis Fatiguee.” Liss’ body sagged into the Dietrich slouch as she pantomimed the cigarette holder and sang deliciously flat, demonstrating the truth of the lyrics, “I’m Bored.” Singer, actor, impressionist – Liss has it all. And such a trouper!
I wish her husband a speedy recovery!
You have heard me carry on in the past about how important is the pianist who appears with the ‘star performer,’ so you will not be surprised that I fully appreciated what Alan Jay Corey brought to the morning. Corey has been a ‘star performer’ in his own right in the Sarasota area for many years, backing up singers and training young voices up to professional standards. He was in fine fettle, providing subtle, sensitive support throughout the wide variety of the morning’s songs.
This was the very first performance of a brand-new show written by Liss, and it rolled, nearly flawlessly, across the footlights, to our great pleasure. If you weren’t there, you missed two great performers at their best.
Next up for the Music Club is the competition for scholarships offered by the combined Sarasota Music Club and the Artist Series of Sarasota. Unfortunately, the competition is not open to the public, but the results will be, as the 12th grade winners will perform at the season-ending Annual Scholarship Awards Luncheon on Saturday, May 12, at Michael’s On East, starting at 11am. Tickets are still available – call 941-306-1200 or 941-925-3602 to hear tomorrow’s stars today. And have a nice lunch!