|photo by Zoran Trifunovic
Erin Cross (right) with actress Geraldine Smith
On August 5, Erin Cross offered the third of her splendid Nancy LaMott tribute concerts, and once again captured the hearts of her spellbound audience at Don’t Tell Mama in Broadway’s Theatre District. “Inspirations” was the title of the show, and that spirit filled the room from the evening’s exciting start to its poetic finish.
Erin Cross and her collaborators are rapidly establishing themselves in the New York City cabaret scene as the new aristocracy: always elegant, exciting, illuminating, stylish, and thought-provoking “Inspirations” boasts a script that is a gleaming prismatic miniature, carefully crafted by Cross and her director, David Garverick.
Tracing the intersection and overlap of the songs performed by LaMott which inspired Cross in her own work, and the songs that were written especially for LaMott by the likes of songwriting legend David Friedman, “Inspirations” is cabaret theatre at its best. Cross and her Musical Director Kenneth Garthman meticulously researched LaMott’s own arrangements for both new songs and classics, and then proceeded to liberally sprinkle their own magic. Effortlessly embracing Broadway, Pop and Lounge idioms, with more than a tip of the hat to Jazz and Blues, an innovative and exciting musical language is evolving that, for the moment, I will call New Fusion
When Miss Cross delivers a quiet ballad, her voice is smooth as velvet. Time stands still when she floats a long soft high note. “Skylark,” “How Deep Is the Ocean,” and “Moon River” raised the bar for all other singers on the scene, and as far as I can see, no one else even comes close.
When she pulls out the stops and unleashes the sweet power of her voice, belting out elaborate, almost symphonic, arrangements of “I Got the Sun in the Morning” from “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Help is on the Way,’ and “Downtown,” there is no doubt that she is the heir to the thrones vacated by the late Ethel Merman and Dusty Springfield.
Cross’ close partnership with Garthman and Garverick ensures that each song is a distinct dramatic episode within the larger architectural framework provided by the fine script and discerning playlist. Garthman’s virtuosic keyboards illuminate both the explicit and implicit meaning of every moment in every song, always at one with the vocals. The backdrop of underlying meaning is the sensuous pulse of Matt Carlozzi’s percussion, by turns sizzling and subtle. The musical and theatrical ensemble could hardly be bettered: these are professionals’ professionals.
Opening with “Listen to my Heart,” the most beautiful and best known LaMott/Friedman anthem, was an especially bold stroke for Cross. Learning of Nancy LaMott’s commitment to performing on behalf of Broadway Cares, Equity Fights AIDS while fighting her own battle with cancer brought an audible gasp from audience members.
The crowning jewel for “Inspirations” was its 11 o’clock number, “Trust the Wind.” A power ballad written soon after LaMott’s death by David Friedman in essentially one inspired sitting.
“Trust the Wind” is nothing less than an externalization of Friedman’s profound grief, and it brought the story of the evening to a beautiful and uplifting close. The show’s final inspiration was its encore: “I’ll be Here with You,” rapturously delivered by Cross in duet with Garthman’s honeyed tenor.
In this writer’s opinion, the obligatory standing ovation has become a tedious and demeaning tradition in American theatre: mediocrity often receives the same applause as greatness.
The audience at “inspirations,” however, erupted into standing ovation not only once, at the show’s end, but TWICE, well before the finale. There was nothing tedious or mechanical about THAT!
Erin Cross will be appearing again soon at Don’t Tell Mama, and there is a plan in the works to take the Nancy La Mott project much further. With “Inspirations” as its core, it can’t go wrong.
Her loyal following grows enthusiastically with each appearance.
Among the celebrities in attendance at “Inspirations,” I spotted Andy Warhol/Paul Morrissey Superstar Geraldine Smith who, “rumor has it,” is considering a return to the screen. Let’s hope so! More news on THAT as it happens, so stay tuned.
If you missed Erin Cross this time, catch her soon, while you can still buy a ticket. You’ll be able to say “I heard her when…”