Jen Fellman brings April in Paris to New York on a Blustery Spring Night
By Myra Chanin
Mon Dieu! Jen Fellman’s All-American parents may have come to the US from Kiev and raised her in Philadelphia – ditto moi – but any similarity between us, our genes and our childhood diets, ends right there. Jen became a gracious facsimile of the Audrey Hepburn, who like Sabrina Fair(child) spent three formative years in Paris acquiring skills and style, learning to make French sounds when she couldn’t think of a French word, falling in love naturally, and discovering who she really was. She steps on stage in a stunningly simple petite robe noire that clings to her fat-free torso as if it were spray-painted on. If you’ve ever wondered what kind of body actually fits into a Size 2 dress, look no further. Fellman fits the bill as well as the dress.
But she’s more than just a pretty face and a to-die-for body. She’s an articulate story-teller and a crafted, trained singer who in an original work, “Frenchy – A Parisian Affair in Story and Song,” is helped along by a few elegantly simple props – a red umbrella, an Art Deco chair and a stack of batards from her favorite boulangerie. She employs a clever and pointed mix of French and English songs to convey her entrancing three year journey through Paris from a room of her own in a fifth floor walkup to her unexpected, if not everlasting, love story. Why unexpected? Because the Frenchy Fellman sings about early in the show is a soldier the songwriter marries. Fellman’s actual Frenchy was a friend who became a lover and was a woman. Fellman may have come to life in Paris, but she also came out there.
Fellman sings in a very clear and obviously well trained soprano. Her patter is precise but amusing. She’s a gamin flitting around the stage until her life takes a turn that slows her down briefly but an All American girl like her can’t stay sad forever. Her music director Bob Goldstone has supplied her with superb arrangements. He leads her into her opening number, written by another American who was also waylaid by and in Paris, Cole Porter, entitled “You Don’t Know Paree,” by simply playing the melody one note at a time. All of his arrangements support her rather than overwhelm her. And her director, John-Richard Thompson, moves her around the stage just enough.
The English songs Jen selected were mostly about life in Paris from a tourist’s point of view. Her French songs describe her love of Paris as she felt herself becoming a native. All are written by the crème de la crème of both English and French tunesmiths, including Bricusse and Newley, Michel Legrand, Lerner and Loewe, Josephine Baker, Hammerstein and Kern, and Yves Montand, Maurice Chevalier, Edith Piaf and Mistinguett. Talk about finding the best of two possible worlds!
The Cabaret Room at Don’t Tell Mama was packed and not with the usual grey heads either. There were many young romantic couples there as well. The ones sitting beside me held hands under the table and kissed above it during the more sensuous numbers. And who could blame them?
Jen Fellman received a well-deserved standing ovation which fortunately forced her to perform two encores. She has an interesting past, which she described in “Frenchy,” but I think she’s a gal with an even bigger future. The entire audience wished her Bon Voyage!
She’ll be appearing next in New York at Chez Josephine on 42nd Street in July. More information is available at Jenfellman.com