Review by Michael Tingley
Cabarets are a type of time machine, and an evening with Jillian Laurain is a particularly lovely one as the band plays and stepping out on the cabaret stage at Don’t Tell Mama, is Jillian Laurain,a seasoned professional – renowned for her opera performances, her incredible mezzo – tonight, backed by a jazz band where she will deal a particularly potent dose of nostalgia. The first thing I notice: she’s sparkling. Her bracelet, her earrings, her dress, her eyes, everything reminds me of a night sky. Then she sings.
She begins seemingly randomly – I didn’t hear the pick-up – yet, without realizing it, myself and everyone else in the intimate, low-lit cabaret are drifting back to a time when the hills were alive with the sound of music. It’s effortless, we’re there in the foothills of Austria, in the shade of the Alps. It’s the mezzo that carries us through, “The Hills Are Alive,” “Come to the Cabaret,” and other classics making up a medley that I’d be doing you a disservice if I gave out the rest of the titles. But I can bet you know them all.
After the medley, after the applause fades, Laurain discusses her life, her career, and why she decided to do a night of movie theme songs. “We’re lucky, “she says, “that so many musicals were made into movies – it makes a night like this one twice as charming.” She breaks into songs from Casablanca, Chicago, Casino Royale. When she shares what these songs mean to her it’s confessional, personal. These songs bridge a wide gap between people. As she tells us the first time she heard these songs, the first time she sang them, we reflect on our first times, the fumbling with the record players, the sibling playing them hesitantly at the piano on a Wednesday morning.
However, whomever you first heard play these songs on piano, you haven’t heard them played by Jon Weber, and you should. I didn’t get a look at his hands after the performance but I’d be shocked to see that he only had ten fingers like the rest of us. There are songs, many songs now that I think of it, when those hands flow up and down the keys fluid as water. Marco Panascia on the bass is wonderful; he brings at once playful notes and at other times notes of longing. Sean Harkness on guitar. A moment I’m reminded of in particular when thinking of Harkness’ performance was when Laurain stopped singing, almost as if taken by some thought or memory that brought on total silence, while Harkness finger-picked his guitar like a master. Last, but of course certainly not least, Dave Silliman on percussion. What he does with the cymbals is particularly enchanting, it adds something to the air, smoke maybe, in a smokeless cabaret.
Laurain says, “I love when a movie doesn’t give everything away, when it leaves things up to the imagination.” A good cabaret works like that too. Laurain’s voice, Weber’s piano, Harkness’ guitar, Panascia’s double bass, Silliman’s drums, all leave things to the imagination. But it isn’t really brought all together until “Wild is the Wind.” This was the culmination of the cabaret for me.
In its lower register, Laurain’s voice is perfect for fall. Her voice easily takes on the wind, the vibrato so rich it feels like wind in a forest, each vibration another leaf or twig or tree branch the wind passes over. It leaves things up to the imagination.
Remember loves lost and days gone (you will whether you want to or not). It’s a dimly lit cabaret and for an hour or so you could be anywhere, anyone, you could be young, old, in love, the only thing you have to be is listening.
Hollywood and The Silver Screen
October 26, 2019