A Sophisticated Ladies Reunion

 

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Cabaret Review by Marilyn Lester

 

When three alumni of the Broadway hit “Sophisticated Ladies” – friends for over three decades – get together to do a show, you know the chemistry is going to be electric. And so it was with an evening of entertainment smartly crafted by Valarie Pettiford, Terri Klausner and Ty Stephens, who brought elements of their own individual shows to the stage, along with numbers from the 1981 Ellington show.

Making a sparkling entrance from offstage, the trio offered a medley of “star” songs, leading with “When You Wish Upon a Star, through “Shining Star” to “Everybody Is A Star,” and “Another  Star.” From the outset, the melding of voices, synergy and energy of the three performers promised a show full of high-octane delivery and unstinting vivacity.

Pettiford soloed on “All That Jazz,” powering through the tune with the dial turned up on “diva” in the best possible sense of the word. Pettiford is consummately theatrical – she can be brassy or toned down, which perfectly suited the evocative “Willow Weep For Me,” a tune she reveals greatly influenced her growing up. Without a letup in the energy level, Ty Stephens followed, with a zipping and zinging “I’ve Got A Lot Of Livin’ To Do,” and a fun “Puttin’ On The Ritz.” Stephens has natural charm and an intuitive ability to connect with his audience, a gift apparent in his own lovely “Found,” a tune he wrote, he reveals, at a time when he was deeply in love.

Stephens teamed with Klausner for a close harmony rendition of “You Can Close Your Eyes,” before leaving Klausner to her own extraordinary devices, jiving with the 1943 wartime novelty song, “Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet.” Klausner has a voice that’s nothing short of astounding: rich, strong, melodic and flexible. She was Patti LuPone’s alternate in “Evita;” her rendition of “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” was stunning. You could hear a pin drop in the room. Klausner shared her stories from her days with “Evita,” and the excitement of first singing the iconic song.

The show’s closer, numbers from “Sophisticated Ladies,” radiantly displayed the talent and chemistry of the trio. With shout-outs to audience members connected to the show: Mercedes Ellington, Maurice Hines, and producer Sondra Gillman, Ellington’s enduring music rocked the house with “Take The A Train,” and other standards and staples: “Hit Me With A Hot Note And Watch Me Bounce” (Klausner), “Love You Madly,” (Pettiford), “Perdido” (Stephens), “I’ve Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good” (Pettiford), and “Mood Indigo” (Klausner).

Stephens brought down the house with “Sophisticated Lady,” dedicating the eponymous song to the memory of the late Gregory Hines, a star of the original show; the three brought it down again with a rousing finale of the innately spirited “It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.”

One success element of the show is its high degree of personalization – each of the three performers shared their own stories along with their songs; moreover, all are Broadway pros who don’t stint on giving themselves to an audience. Another success element was the wonderfully creative arrangements of Music Director and pianist Ron Abel. Abel was also “piano in the foreground,” during several of the numbers, allowing him to showcase his own virtuosity at the keys. Tom Hubbard played strong bass and guitar lines, and Rex Benincasa provided sensitively attuned drum and percussion accompaniment. Stuart Moulton produced.

 

A Sophisticated Ladies Reunion, March 13 at 9:30 PM

54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, 646-476-3551, www.54below.com

 

 

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