Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Cabaret Review: The dyanmic duo of Rick Jensen and Lina Koutrakos entertain at the Gaslight Cabaret Festival October 25, 2015

Rick Jensen
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Lina Koutrakos and Rick Jensen have become familiar figures on the local cabaret scene over the years, first as regular faculty members in the St. Louis Cabaret Conference, and then as directors and advisers for many local performers. So their "Two for the Road" show last Sunday as part of the fall edition of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival was something of a homecoming.

And what a joyous homecoming it was! Ms. Koutrakos and Mr. Jensen have been performing as creative partners for decades, giving their work on stage the kind of easy camaraderie that comes only with experience. It makes for an evening that easily draws the audience into their musical conversation and quickly dissolves the fabled fourth wall. Together, they unfailingly deliver a mix of passion, wit, and polished musicianship that's just unbeatable.

The evening opened with a set of Mr. Jensen's original material that showed his versatility as a songwriter. Straightforward patter songs like "Hi Ho, That's the German Way" rubbed shoulders with introspective ballads like "Long Cold Fall" (with its Randy Newmanesque harmonies) and the inspiring "Go Ahead and Dream," from the 2011 film "That's What I Am."

I found "Amanda Sang," a little character study inspired by Mr. Jensen's youth in Minneapolis, particularly noteworthy, in part because of a lyric that could serve as a mini-lesson for cabaret singers: "She could never go wrong / Because her heart was in her song." And the ballad "In Passing Years" (part of the encore set), with its ruminations on the enduring value of friendship, remains one of my favorites.

Lina Koutrakos
Having worked with Mr. Jensen in St. Louis Cabaret Conference sessions in the past, I already knew about his skills as a songwriter and pianist. What I didn't realize was what an engaging and funny storyteller he was. The between-songs patter in his set was consistently entertaining and often hilarious.

Ms. Koutrakos brought her share of humor to the show as well, most notably with the Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh classic "When in Rome (I Do as the Romans Do)." But as anyone who has seen her perform would know, she was at her most formidable in torch songs like "What Are You Doing New Year's" and power ballads like "Life is What You Do" from Kander and Ebb's "Zorba."

Her medley of Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" and Mr. Jensen's "New York City is My Home" was a remarkable combination of poignancy and affirmation. And her dark, smoky voice was an ideal match for the elusive tragedy that lurks just beneath the surface of Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billy Joe." When Ms. Koutrakos unleashes the smoldering passion that is her musical forte, she is without equal.

Lina Koutrakos and Rick Jensen will have moved on to their next projects by the time you read this, but their strong local connections pretty much guarantee that they'll come to St. Louis again. Don't miss them when they do.

The Gaslight Cabaret Festival continues through November 21 at the Gaslight Theater on North Boyle in midtown. For more information:

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