On the evening of February 27, cheers and applause greeted singer Erin Cross when she launched the first segment of her four-part Nancy LaMott project at Don’t Tell Mama. “Erin Cross Sings Nancy LaMott: The American Songbook” is certainly a gem.
Lovingly conceived by Cross as a tribute to late singer-songwriter Nancy LaMott, the show seamlessly interweaves LaMott’s life and work with Cross’ own story in a nicely crafted counterpoint of words and music. Cross herself provided splendid vocals and her excellent colleagues were MAC Award-Winning Musical Director Tracy Stark, Matthew Carlozzi on drums, and Donald Garverick as Director. The expert resident staff at Don’t Tell Mama offered fluid support both onstage and off.
Certainly the attentive audience made no secret of its appreciation: there was thunderous applause between musical numbers and at the end of the night and, from start to finish, the air crackled with excitement.
The American Songbook is a huge and loosely structured compendium of much-loved classic popular songs that everybody knows—or THINKS they know—and is a virtual gold mine from which great singers bring forth their own specialized versions or “covers. “Covers” are all about personality and revisiting a classic with a fresh point of view, and Erin Cross has personality and imagination to spare.
Cross opened with a rousing version of Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” and proceeded directly into a charming arrangement, by Mark McDaniels and show director Garverick, of Harry Warren and Al Dubin’s “You’re Getting to be a Habit With Me,” from “42nd Street,” and Cole Porter’s “Easy to Love,” from “Born to Dance” and “Anything Goes,” setting a breezy and loose-limbed tone to the evening.
LaMott’s work was famous for its simplicity and soulfulness, and a tribute to her style and tastes might be daunting to most vocalists. Cross’ hypnotically beautiful rendition of the next number, her voice floating softly into Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer’s “Skylark,” proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that, of all the singers on the New York cabaret scene today, the exclusive rights to perform a LaMott tribute belong to her. Cross is a master of nuance, and her floated high notes are earning her a place among the great torch singers of the past.
Cross’ onstage dialogue and counterpoint was echoed in the pit by the skillful interplay between Stark at the keyboard and Carlozzi on the drums, who created intricate patterns of rhythm and accent which always served to highlight and underline the show’s sensitivities and layers of meaning. There are those rare times in the theatre when, for a single moment only, everything comes together just-so, you can hear a pin drop, and time stands still.
Cross took our breath away when she told us that LaMott had often sung in that same room and performed on that same stage. Suddenly past and present merged and, in the here and now, our hearts were all beating to the same rhythm, recalling the beauty and sadness of the past, while luxuriating in Cross’ superb rendition of Irving Berlin’s “How Deep is the Ocean.”
The iconic couturier Mario Valentino has ruled that an essential element of beauty is surprise. At the end of the night, Eric Cross astonished the house when, after all her meditative, heart-felt, and quiet singing, she blew the roof off Don’t tell Mama with LaMott’s own arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “I’ve Got the Sun in the Morning and the Moon at Night,” from “Annie Get Your Gun.”. Her sustained high belted tones were like trumpet calls, and appropriately recalled the best years of the young Ethel Merman, who created the role of Annie Oakley. It was a great way to end the night.
As everyone was filing out of the cabaret room, someone next to me said, “Beautiful voice … beautifully chosen songs.” I glanced over, and from the look on his face I could see that he was thinking hard and sorting out his feelings about what he had experienced. If that’s not the purpose of theatre, I don’t know what is.
Erin Cross will be appearing regularly at Don’t Tell Mama, at 343 West 46th Street, with more Nancy LaMott, through the spring. Visit www.donttellmamanyc.com
for further information.