As I waited for the late show to start, I had no idea what to expect from the actress, dancer, author and now jazz singer. I knew her debut album, "Except Sometimes" (Concord), was released last month and has been charting quite well. But I was skeptical that she could pull off a live show, and I feared there could be awkward moments in my near future.
Happily, my worries were unfounded as Ringwald executed an overall solid performance to wrap up her two-night, four-show debut appearance at the Bistro.
Opening with "Sooner or Later" (Sondheim), Ringwald allowed the audience to become familiar with her new, reinvented persona. Actually, it's not really a new phase, as she had always meant to pursue jazz. Her father, Bob Ringwald, was a professional jazz pianist. Ms. Ringwald has been working on her singing for some years and found a fit with pianist Peter Smith, who helped arrange the songs.
Next was "Exactly Like You" (McHugh and Fields). With hard swinging minimalism, Ringwald showed some good timing as the tempo seemed to be in her wheelhouse. Ringwald introduced her selections with the enthusiasm of someone who had just discovered the music.
On "The Very Thought of You" (Noble), Ringwald struggled to fill the open spaces due to the tortoise-like pace of the arrangement. She held her long notes with varying degrees of success but always with a delicate touch and a sense of vulnerability.
Ringwald then played "You Fascinate Me So" (Coleman and Leigh) and won over many hearts and minds in the crowd with a soulful rendition of the French song "J'attendrai" ("I Will Wait") (Olivieri). Ringwald speaks French and has lived in France for a time.
The second half of the set was a time for each band member to shine with some great solos. Ringwald sang better as well, probably in part because all of the attention (and pressure) was no longer on her.
On the plodding "I Fall in Love Too Easily" (Styne and Cahn), bassist Trevor Ware played a thoroughly engrossing solo.
After most of her vocal intros, Ringwald turned to Smith and watched and danced, perhaps just as she did with her father as a child.
I quickly realized why she was so locked into Smith -- he's a phenomenal player and innovative creator. On the swinging "I'll Take Romance" (Oakland and Hammerstein), Smith showed virtuosic precision and inspiring creativity on his lengthy solo, even throwing in an "If I Only Had A Brain" quote at one point.
The show took on a St. Louis theme when Ringwald introduced "Ballad of the Sad Young Men" (Landesman and Wolf). The writer of the song, lyricist and poet Fran Landsmen, lived in St. Louis and helped her husband create the old Crystal Palace nightclub, among her other endeavors. One could hear a pin drop in the room throughout the song, which was punctuated by a bow solo from Ware and a sublime coda from Ringwald.
The band stretched out on "I Believe in You" (Loesser), with Smith delivering a furious solo and Clayton "Brushmaster" Cameron upstaging them all with a drum solo that went from nuanced to face melting over the course of several minutes.
The group wrapped up their Great American Songbook tour with great renditions of "It Never Entered My Mind" (Rodgers and Hart) and "On the Street Where You Live" (Loewe and Lerner).
Then they closed with a jazz exploration of "Don't You Forget About Me" (Simple Minds), the theme from arguably her greatest Brat Pack movie "The Breakfast Club." Ringwald had included the song on her album as a tribute to her late director, John Hughes. The repetitiveness of the verses was a bit tedious and reinforced how polished her jazz set was. However, it was a blast when she and Smith got the crowd to sing along during the la-la-la-la part.
With her song choices, Ringwald gave herself quite a challenge. It's not at all easy to hit all those notes perfectly while infusing passion and personality into the arrangements. Many of the songs were virtual minefields of potentially awkward vocal mistakes.
She negotiated her way through these minefields deftly and came out clean for the most part, especially on the technical side. In the areas of passion and projection, I heard some room for improvement. She will surely gain that improvement if she sticks with it in the years to come.
This isn't to say she wasn't having fun up there. Especially in the latter half of the set, Ringwald loosened up and let some impressive vocal runs rip and became more playful in her interactions with her band and the audience.