With Hilary Gardner, Lezlie Harrison, and Brianna Thomas
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
A welcomed case of the blues has landed in Manhattan at the new pop-up blues supper club currently residing at the iconic Don’t Tell Mama on Restaurant Row in midtown Manhattan. Under Ehud Asherie’s music direction, three of New York’s most distinguished blues and jazz singers croon and make the audience swoon with their rich blend of voices and superlative interpretive skills. With Ken Peplowski on reeds, Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, Jackie Williams on drums, and David Wong on upright bass, the three chanteuses charm the audience with a program of blues standards that pleases any blues-lover’s palate.
After an introduction by “Pompie” ( producer Arthur Pomposello), the three artists sing solo, in duet, and in trio following a fictional back story provided between each number by the impresario Pompie. Lezlie Harrison delivers a sultry and engaging rendition of “Saint Louis Blues” by the Father of the Blues W. C. Handy. Brianna Thomas struts slowly down one of the aisles singing “Darkness on the Delta” (Jerry Livingston and Marty Symes) a cappella. She finishes on stage with the mike but her rich voice and careful styling hardly require amplification. Hilary Garnder follows with a plaintive “10 Cents a Dance” by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart. The singers have three distinctive vocal qualities and approach their songs with equally distinctive stylings and interpretations of the lyrics.
Other highlights of the evening are Brianna Thomas’s brassy, bawdy, and bluesy rendition of Lil Johnson’s “My Stove’s in Good Condition” which prompted the audience to do its best to “turn [its] damper down”; Lezlie Harrison’s seductive rendition of “Kansas City” (Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller); and Hilary Gardner’s hauntingly beautiful rendition of “When I Get Low I Get High” (Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald). The band’s instrumental version of Duke Ellington’s jazz standard “Creole Love Call” highlighted the remarkable skill of each member of the show’s band.
The evening rounds out with duets by Hilary Gardner and Lezlie Harrison (“After You’re Gone”) and Brianna Thomas and Hilary Gardner (“Willow Tree”) and two songs highlighting all three singers (“Mood Indigo” and “Blues in the Night”). Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s lyrics “The evenin’ breeze’ll start the trees to cryin’/And the moon’ll hide it’s light/When you get the blues/Blues in the night” capture the mood at the successful start-up of Pompie’s Place where the audience gets a good dose of “blues in the night” and yearns for more.
The setting is intimate and the seating is limited allowing an excellent view of the stage. The three-course meal is delivered quietly by the Don’t Tell Mama staff and the drinks delivered personally by the venue’s bar tender. The menu provides a choice of a market salad or a large bowl of homemade chill (with Mamas amazing cornbread) for the appetizer; pan roasted Atlantic salmon, butternut squash ravioli (with a cream sauce topped with pecans), or baby back BBQ ribs (with garlic mashed potatoes, cornbread, and sautéed vegetables) for the entrée; and either lemon meringue pie or a rocky road brownie for dessert.