March 26 and 27, 2010
Reviewed by Steve Callahan
The cabaret repertoire is a familiar one it usually consists of show tunes, the "Great American Songbook", occasional "golden oldies", an obscure novelty or two; we all know what to expect when we walk in the door. But in Chuck Lavazzi
's debut at the Kranzberg, what a charming, refreshing change from that usual cabaret fare. Produced by The Presenters Dolan, the evening was a most winning collection of sentiment, romance, comedy and pathos in songs drawn from the vaudeville era.
In the interest of full disclosure let me say that Chuck is an old friend and colleague. Having known him for years I am familiar with his deep love for the music of that era and with his real expertise in it. The guy absolutely knows this stuff! And the evening is imbued with that love and that detailed knowledge. Chuck's delight in the material was quite contagious.
A very strong virtue of the evening was it's "book" an element that is too often weak in our local cabaret presentations. Chuck is a good and practiced writer, and that showed in the verbal "woof" that interweaved the musical "warp" of the program and in the successful structure of the whole evening.
In the interest of full disclosure let me say that vocally Chuck is no Tony Bennett not even a Barry Manilow. But he has a very serviceable, listenable baritone; his phrasing was spot-on, and he totally owned every lyric.
His selections represented the whole spectrum of vaudeville songs, from the purely sentimental "Love's Old Sweet Song" to the bright and comic "The Bird on Nellie's Hat"; from the beloved and familiar "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" and "Shine On Harvest Moon" to the rather obscure "Under the Anheuser Bush". There were paeans to the new technology of the day: the automobile, in "Get Out and Get Under", and the cinema in "Take Your Girlie to the Movies". There was the happy, up-beat "Toot, Toot, Tootsie", the melancholy "After the Ball", the comically depressed, sad-sack "Nobody". There were some slightly naughty ones, like "Last Night on the Back Porch". There were songs that are identified with mega-stars of the day like Al Jolson and Sophie Tucker.
There was just one more modern offering "Mr. Cellophane", from Chicago. It was in a medley and was there because the theme, the melody and the chord structure of the partner-piece, "Nobody", simply demanded it.
One of the loveliest items on the program was "After the Ball", in which pianist Neal Richardson joined in to sing an overlapping "Love's Old Sweet Song".
The pace was brisk, the tone varied, and the mood most congenial.
Midway through the evening Chuck introduced a guest artist the lovely Anna Blair, who is deservedly a St. Louis favorite, and who added a lovely feminine touch to this masculine evening. And she beautifully belted some fine Sophie Tucker.
Too often St. Louis' burgeoning cabaret artists yield to the temptation to indulge in stories of their personal life. Chuck Lavazzi showed admirable restraint in this; the very few references to his own life were there for a purpose as in the brief reference to his mother's lullabies, which set up an utterly poignant moment in Chuck's comments on nostalgia at the end.
Nostalgia. The Greek origins of the word imply a pain for a lost home a homesickness. And aren't we all subject to it? This evening was filled with that sweet, gentle pain the longing for a home in those "good old days" that we all persuade ourselves that we almost remember.
Chuck Lavazzi's Just a Song at Twilight played at the Kranzberg on March 26 and 27. For information on future shows by The Presenters Dolan, you may visit the web site at licketytix.com
. More information about Chuck Lavazzi's work may be found at his Stage Left blog