by Joe Regan Jr.
The Cell on West 23rd Street is an unusual small performance space with superb lighting and acoustics.
“The Shakespearean Jazz Show” is made up of a group of jazz musicians and singers who began in Massachusetts at Emerson College and the Berklee College of Music. They call themselves “The Nine Worthies,” a name taken from Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labors Lost.” Now graduated, they all have professional careers in New York, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Denver, Dayton, Ohio and reunite for special concerts. Perhaps the most well known to New York audiences is Emily Skeggs, who is currently appearing in Fun Home as Medium Alison, won a Theater World Award, and was Tony nominated and featured on the Tonys singing “Changing My Major.” Her Fun Home co-star Michael Cerveris was in the audience. She is a pixie like presence, very young Shirley MacLaine in image, and is a great dancer as well because several times during the show she dances romantically and vigorously with other members of the group. The show itself is really a party with enthusiastic participation by all members of the audience. The fact that they sell wine and beer adds to the party atmosphere although I, seated in the front row, sometimes feared that my bottle of beer would be knocked over by the vigorous dancing in the aisles, especially by rubber contortionist dancer Sheldon Brown, and equally agile Daniel Irwin.
All the musical settings for “The Shakespearean Jazz Show” are written by music director/pianist Patrick Greeley, who also plays the clarinet, and at one point sings a solo center stage. The Nine Worthies, all superb musicians, were, besides Greeley, are Sam Crawford on guitar and mandolin, Jemila Dunham on bass guitar, Jordan Ross on drums and percussion, and Linton Smith on trumpet and other brass. Each one gets a great opportunity to solo and comment on the six singers’ performances. Especially terrific is Smith who plays the French Horn often. The other singers, all great jazz vocalists and energetic dancers, are Tyler Catanella and Jenna Rogalski. The director, conceiver, co-creator, and producer is the young Alex Ates. Orrin Whalen is the great designer of the appropriate video images projected on a tapestry behind the performers.
The party begins with Brown reciting “Speak the Speech” from Hamlet” with the musicians gradually joining him to fast paced hip hop rock sound. In a show of so many great numbers it is hard to limit one’s listing of individual numbers. I must choose some. “Mariana,” a song about the character in “Measure For Measure” is beautifully sung by Catanella, with stunning work by Smith, and has the moving final lyric “But first set my poor heart free/Bound in icy chains to thee.” Irwin leads everyone in songs based upon Sonnets 95 and 90. Skeggs does Sonnet 126 entitled “Lonely Boy” in the purest soprano voice. And Brown leads everyone in “Wit Peddler” from “Love’s Labor’s Lost” to a dynamic finish and, with Irwin, “Come Away Death” from “Twelfth Night.”
Perhaps the most famous songs from the Shakespearean canon are “Who Is Sylvia” from “Two Gentlemen of Verona” and the Fool’s closing song from “Twelfth Night,” “Wind and the Rain.” “Sylvie” is sung in English and flawless French by Irwin. “Wind and the Rain” is sung by Brown and Skeggs with the Nine Worthies all participating.
And the encore: Brown exhorting everyone to stand because you had to be up to really ‘get down;” And the number: “O Mistress Mine” with applauding and dancing in the aisles!
“The Shakespearean Jazz Show” will next appear in New York City at Feinstein’s/54 Below on February 24 at 9:30 PM. They have an exciting CD entitled “Speak the Speech” which can be found on their website www.ShakespearanJazzShow.com and you can friend them on Facebook.com for more information. I, for one, will be there February 24 which is billed as with special Broadway guest stars!