Jillian Laurain: Broadway Her Way


By Marilyn Lester


Jillian Laurain bills herself as a concert artist, but she’s so very much more. She is a consummate performer in the style of which it can be said, “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.” Laurain is a diva in the purest sense of the word – a singer of magnitude and presence, with an appreciation of style and glamour not much seen these days. In fact, she began in opera, and her classical training underpins much of her musical theater and pop style. Laurain’s operatic beginnings were most evident in three numbers, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man (Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II) from Showboat, and from Porgy and Bess (George and Ira Gershwin), “Summertime” and “I Loves You Porgy” – all powerfully sung. Laurain possesses beautiful technique and control, coupled with a well-honed capacity for story-telling. She has deftly handled heavy-duty roles in dramatic plays, such as Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire, and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf. Very affecting were intense renditions of “I’ll Be Seeing You” from Right This Way (Sammy Fain/Irving Kahal), a song very personal to her, and “At the Ballet” (Marvin Hamlisch/Edward Kleban) from A Chorus Line. It turns out the diva was on a track to be a ballerina before physical issues forced a switch to singing.

Laurain had introduced her set as music from Broadway shows she wished she could have been in – but in point of fact, the singer has had a very rewarding career in regional musical theater in shows such as Gypsy, Sound of Music, West Side Story and South Pacific. On her wish list, however, were big diva numbers befitting her capacity to possess the stage. Laurain is, if nothing, grandly and majestically theatrical. When she sings “Aldonza” (Mitch Leigh/Joe Darion) from Man of La Mancha and “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” (Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice) from Evita, it is a happening that expands the song into much more than mere words and music. She is firmly in character, giving the effort a powerful mini dramatic arc of its own. Likewise, with the sardonic “I Don’t Remember Christmas” (David Shire/Richard Maltby, Jr.) from Starting Here, Starting Now, Laurain wrings layers of meaning out of every nook and cranny of the song, hitting a range of emotion from start to finish, and ending with a finality that makes an unmistakable statement. Laurain dispatches ballads effortlessly, such as a slow-tempo “Time Heals Everything” (Jerry Herman) from Mack and Mabel, and handles jazz surprisingly well. “Hit Me With a Hot Note” (Duke Ellington/Don George), which appeared in Sophisticated Ladies, is a swinging tune that could easily have fallen flat. Not so with Laurain; her interpretation was in the groove with just enough swing to bolster the Broadway-style arrangement.

At her insistence, and to the great good fortune of her audience, Ian Herman, Laurain’s classically-trained music director and pianist, played a composition of his own – a lush and beautiful work reminiscent of the best of the Romantic period of Schumann and his peers. Overall, Herman’s arrangements and playing meshed perfectly with the grandeur of Laurain’s style. Tom Hubbard on upright bass, using plenty of bowing technique throughout, stood out especially on “I’ll Be Seeing You” as well as delivering a beautifully phrased solo on “Hit Me With a Hot Note.” Providing percussion was the talented and attuned, David Silliman. Together, these players were more than their individual parts, producing a big sound that belied their status as a trio.


Jillian Laurain: Broadway Her Way, September 16 at 4 PM

Don’t Tell Mama, 343 West 46th Street, 212-757-0788, www.don’ttellmamanyc.com