NY Cabaret Review By Joel Benjamin
(September 9 & 10, 2014)
Louis St. Louis, a respected composer/performer/arranger, still has a childlike enthusiasm for music and performing which he displayed at 54 Below in a program of old favorites and works from his new musicals which he humorously titled Still Comin’ In Thru the Kitchen (a tongue-in-cheek reference).
“Here I Am Back Home Again” (Wes Harris*) was a jovial, upbeat number, heralded by the thumping of drums, bringing Mr. St. Louis onto the stage with his fine back-up singers, Ramona Keller, Darryl Jovann Williams and Onyinyechi Vivian Nwachuku. “There’s Nothing Like Music” (Harris*) from Truckload served as his creed: music has redemptive powers.
His new musical Sugar Hill was the source of several numbers, including “Up Here On Sugar Hill” (Roberto Fernandez/Tony Walsh*) introducing the very socially conscious inhabitants of that posh Harlem neighborhood and the sultry “What Color of Love,” sung with a posh-voiced Ms. Keller, about the vicissitudes of an inter-racial love affair.
His most popular songs came from the various film versions of Grease. “Sandy” (Scott Simon*), written virtually overnight for John Travolta, is a perfect pastiche of a late Fifty’s song which Mr. St. Louis sang with the proper tear in his voice. “Love Will Turn Back the Hands of Time” (Howard Greenfield*), sung with guest artist Lana Cantrell, involved deliciously phony accents and the chance to hear the long-absent Ms. Cantrell’s richly layered voice. (She also sang a rhapsodic “I Will Wait For You” from Umbrellas of Cherbourg by Michel LeGrand, Jacques Demy & Norman Gimbel.)
Another show he’s processing is Wuthering Heights, based, of course, on the Brontë novel from which he and his other guest, the lovely Loni Ackerman, sang several songs. He gave Heathcliff, Mr. St. Louis, “Remembering,” a haunting ballad. As Cathy, Ms. Ackerman, pondered how she has melded her soul with Heathcliff’s in “I Am Heathcliff.” She acted the song with passion, convincingly communicating all her emotions.
From yet another new musical—clearly St. Louis has a very, very full plate!—The Monkey King, Mr. Williams lent his beautifully full voice to “A Home” (James Racheff*), about the title character’s adventures.
He ended the show with “Hello Sunshine” (Harris*) probing how love has the power to save souls.
Louis St. Louis is a disarming performer. His voice is a tad ragged at the top, but his earnest, full-throttle interpretations more than made up for any shortcomings. He was immeasurably assisted by his band: himself on piano, co-arranger Adam Wiggins on synthesizer, Frank Pagano on drums, Paul Nowinski on Bass and George Naha on guitar.
*Mr. St. Louis’ lyricists
254 West 54th St., between Broadway & 8th Ave.
New York, NY
Reservations: 646-476-3551 or www.54below.com