By Myra Chanin
Among the misused words which currently enrage me, the word diva ranks high. It was a title awarded to the greatest female opera stars after decades of vocal highs made them worthy of recognition by their given names only — so when an opera aficionado said Renate, Maria, Montserrat, Jessye or Leontyne, everyone knew who was being praised or reviled. In current pop culture, diva hood is frequently a self-bestowed title but the truly great — Billie, Dinah, Ella, Etta and Peggy and the Rock ‘n Rollers who followed – Cher, Barbra, Bette, Aretha, Dolly, Celine, Whitney, are still recognized by first name alone which usually appears in all caps followed by exclamation points.
Not exactly. The Diva Project was delightfully produced and hosted by the amiable, beguiling, charming and talented Scott Coulter, one of New York’s most honored vocalists, winner of multi MAC, Bistro, Nightlife, etc. awards. He’s performed in NYC’s top cabaret rooms including Feinstein’s at The Regency where his co-created, directed and musically arranged review, 11 O’CLOCK NUMBERS AT 11 O’CLOCK, lasted for a record-setting eight months!
Coulter paired a very versatile combo – Michael Holland on piano, guitar and backup vocals, Matt Scharflass on bass, Danny Mallon on drums – and 11 excellent Broadway/cabaret performers, blessed with the flair and artistry required to celebrate the songs sung, written, recorded and identified with Cher, Barbra, Whitney, Bette, Aretha, Dolly, Ella, Tina and Dion. The result was an electrifying and enjoyable evening to relish and remember.
Here’s who sang what during the electrifying and enjoyable evening. Haven’t heard some of their names? Not to worry. You will be soon enough.
Kelli Rabke, remembered for her Broadway performances in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Les Misérables, belted out Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High;” Carole J. Bufford, a sought-after cabaret & jazz songbird, swathed in silver wailed Janice Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee;” As always, the amazing Natalie Douglas’s softer touch on Tina Turner’s “Missing You,” turned an angry song into a tender Southern blues; Nichole Turner, from Broadway’s Book of Mormon, showed deference with her falsetto approach to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect;” Lisa Howard, from Escape to Margaritaville, used perfect restraint to top Bette Midler’s “The Wind Beneath My Wings;” Jessica Hendy, the once and future Grizabella, traded in meowing for howling to Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher,” Man;” LA’s SuZann Brittain paid sweet homage to Barbra’s “The Way We Were.”
Scott felt Barbra deserved double the homage, so he became Ms. S. and with pianist Michael Holland as Donna Summers brought back their disco duet of “Enough is Enough;” Lorinda Lisitza, who I’ll always remember as a perfect Kurt Weill Berliner, gave her all to a killer version of Cher’s, “Bang, Bang;” Jamie Karon provided an exquisite finish to Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love.”
Wait. That’s only ten singers. Weren’t there eleven. I left out Alex Getlin. I’d never heard Alex Getlin or heard of her before. She walked on stage, looking like Edith Piaf, slender and willowy in a simple tailored black dress, her sweet face encircled by dark hair. When she sang, out came an American version of Piaf’s strong voice with just a perfect amount of flutter. The song selected for her was exquisite, clear and compelling. It sounded like an Appalachian version of an Old English Ballad. It told the age-old me-too story of an innocent maiden done wrong by a guy who promised her he’d be coming “Down from Dover” before their baby was born. The most astonishing thing was that it had been written and recorded by Dolly Parton when she was only 18 but her record company found it was too blatantly sexy for mass distribution so it had been buried on the LP. The plaintive lyrics as sung by Getlin brought tears to many eyes in the room, including Scott Coulter’s and mine.
I know this dress I’m wearing doesn’t hide the secret I have tried concealing
When he left he promised me that he’d be back by the time it was revealing
And any time a tiny face will show itself ’cause waiting’s almost over
But I won’t have a name to give it if he doesn’t hurry down from Dover
My body aches. The time is here. it’s lonely in this place where I’m lyin’
Our baby has been born but something’s wrong. it’s much too still I hear no cryin’
I guess in some strange way she knew she’d never have a father’s arms to hold her
And dying was her way of telling me he wasn’t coming down from Dover
Scott also told us that Judge Judy had introduced Alex to Michael Feinstein. He considers her a major talent. During her teenage years, Feinstein took her under his wing, inviting her to do a solo cabaret performance at Feinstein’s at the Regency while Getlin was only a junior at New York’s LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts.
The evening was totally exceptional, so warm and entertaining, that I wondered if Scott planned to turn the idea into an interesting series. He said he would think on that but I could see it appealed to him. I’m hoping he does.
Birdland Theater 315 W 44th St NYC