We also have a few adopted sons and daughters in our cabaret community. Jerome Elliott returned this summer and raised the roof on the Chapel with “My Favorite Springs,” his hilarious, bittersweet and charming homage to the season and his hometown out west. Rick Jensen is a coveted music director and arranger for many local singers and performs his solo shows. He’s here often enough to have his favorite flavor of gooey butter cake.
Then there’s Lina Koutrakos. She calls St. Louis her second home, her favorite U.S. city after NYC. She loves our town and our citizens with an unusual passion, although this really shouldn’t be considered unusual. There’s very little this woman doesn’t do with passion, bridled or otherwise.
Lina was here this past weekend leading a cabaret workshop with Rick Jensen. Saturday night she invited St. Louis to join her up close and personal for “Shades of Blue,” a newly minted show at the Kranzberg produced by Robert Breig’s Mariposa Artists. The majority of the audience in the packed house were clearly fans and friends (full disclosure: I’m both), likely expecting a variation of “Torch,” her fabulous collection of torch songs last performed here in 2009.
It was surprising from start to finish, with no recycling from previous shows. “Shades of Blue” offered a broad range of songs and styles, opening with a moody arrangement of “Blue,” an arcane but cherished song from Joni Mitchell’s album of the same name, and ending with a deeply moving version of Van Morrison’s beloved “Into the Mystic.”
In between, Lina roamed through moments of sweet poignancy such as a mash-up of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” (and who would have guessed that could sound so urgent, fresh and compelling) and Rick Jensen’s gorgeous “New York City Is My Home”. She ripped us with her blistering, wrist-slitting takes on “If I Were Your Woman” and “I’d Rather Go Blind.” There’s nothing I ever seen to rival Lina singing from her gut. Not her heart, mind you, but her gut, a place of deep, complex darkness that translates as her authentic, unsentimental, raw truth.
Within that spectrum were killer arrangements of the familiar and unfamiliar, such as Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” and Steely Dan’s “Daddy essay writer Don’t Live in that New York City.”
One more thought about Lina’s stage presence. She’s a pretty woman under any circumstances. But under the lights, hair gleaming, eyes flashing, smile beckoning, she’s absolutely spectacular. I dare anybody to walk away not in love with her.
But then, that’s how we St. Louisans tend to feel about our sons and daughters, especially our adopted ones.