Sunday, November 04, 2007

It's Wonderful, So They Say

[This is my review for KDHX-FM of Anne Kerry Ford's show Something Wonderful, which played the Cabaret at Savor in St. Louis November 1st through 4th, 2007.]

Anne Kerry Ford is a Ojai, California-based actress and cabaret artist whose Broadway credits include Annie, Threepenny Opera - that one with Sting in 2000 - and Jekyll and Hyde, opposite musical theatre veteran John Cullum. In collaboration with her husband, guitarist Robben Ford, and her musical director John Boswell, Anne Kerry Ford has produced three albums and in my view they're all winners.

When I aired the second of those discs - Something Wonderful: Songs of Sondheim and Hammerstein - on my radio show back in 1999, I described her performances as idiosyncratic and charming. Now that I've finally had a chance to see her do the show the gave birth to that CD here at Savor, I see no reason to revise that verdict.

The late Oscar Hammerstein II was both teacher and father figure to Stephen Sondheim. Ms. Ford's song selection, combined with her biographical tidbits on the two men, provides a fascinating and often enlightening view of their similarities and differences. Early in the program, for example, she pairs Hammerstein's "The Folks Who Live on the Hill" (music by Jerome Kern) with Sondheim's "Marry Me a Little" (cut from Company originally but restored in the latest revival), describing them as contrasting marriage proposals. I hadn't thought of them in quite that way, but she makes it work.

Memorable cabaret artists always bring their own unique styles to the songs they perform. In Ms. Ford's case, that means a combination of wide-eyed wonder, open sentiment and a heavy dose of impish humor. It also means that some songs get an unusual spin. The breathlessly lyrical reading of "Something's Coming" that opens the show is a good example. The song is usually an up-tempo number with lots of rhythmic drive, but while Ms. Ford's version has some of that, it's mostly gentler, with lots of rubato. It works but, like the quietly intense performance of "Being Alive" that precedes the obligatory encores, it's not what you'd expect.

Her selection of material has its share of surprises as well. The Sondheim selections are largely what you might expect - "Broadway Baby", "The Miller's Son", and "With So Little to Be Sure Of" (from Anyone Can Whistle, that brilliantly ambitious social satire that closed after nine performances) - but there's also a compelling "Move On" (from Sunday in the Park With George), which is usually not on a Sondheim "greatest hits" list.

The real obscurities, however, are to be found among the Hammerstein numbers - not surprising, given how prolific he was. In the case of "I'm One of God's Children" (from Ballyhoo of 1930, a show largely distinguished by W.C. Field's juggling, to judge from contemporary accounts), the obscurity may be deserved - the song is a certified clunker. Ms. Ford sends it up in style, though - specifically, the style of the late Jean Hagen in Singin' in the Rain.

She also gets plenty of laughs from another bit of Hammerstein arcana, "Vodka" (music by George Gershwin and Herbert Strothart, from a lavish 1925 operetta Song of the Flame), in which she manages the trick of singing just the right notes just a bit flat, a la Jo Stafford in her Darlene Edwards persona. Anybody can do that accidentally. It takes a singer with a good ear to do it deliberately for comic effect.

Ms. Ford is also on solid ground with more well known songs, including "If I Loved You" (easily one of the best love songs ever penned by anyone), "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'", and "Mr. Snow". She also makes a very good case for the title tune, "Something Wonderful" from The King and I. It's a song I had rather disounted in the past, but her performance made me listen to it with fresh ears.

That, friends, is what cabaret is all about.

Cabaret is also about having a sympathetic and smart music director/arranger/pianist. John Boswell is all of that. There's a lot of ebb and flow to Ms. Ford's performances - the whole tempo rubato thing referred to above - and Mr. Boswell is with her every step of the way.

My only complaint - a very minor one - is that Ms. Ford had, at least on the night I saw her, a tendency to drop final consonants in some of the faster songs - "The Miller's Son" being a good example. Striking a balance between lyrical clarity and tonal beauty is ongoing technical challenge for any singing actor, of course, and from their response it's clear that the audience didn't see this as a problem in any case.

Anne Kerry Ford and John Boswell will be presenting Something Wonderful at the Flim Flam Room at Savor, 4356 Lindell, through Sunday [November 4th, 2007]. The evening is, in fact, something wonderful; no lover of cabaret should miss it. Call 314-531-0220 or visit to order tickets on line. You can also keep up with Ms. Ford's appearances elsewhere via her web site, .

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