Tom Rolla's Gardenia
Francesca Amari, a pert bundle of vocal dynamite, performs the songs she preferred listening to growing up — what she calls her “guilty pleasures” — describing the act of revealing these secrets as “something like attending an AA meeting but with a two-drink minimum.” Never trying to imitate the original artists, Amari simply reflected the joys of their unique sounds as she put her own spin on each song.
Johnny Mathis, one of her personal favorites, is represented here by a wonderful “Wonderful, Wonderful” (Sherman Edwards/Ben Raleigh) and “Chances Are” (Al Stillman/Robert Allen) — sung, as with all the songs, in arrangements that don’t stray far from the fondly remembered originals.
Amari demonstrated nice phrasing on a pair of Neil Sedaka songs — “Love Will Keep Us Together” and “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” (both written with Howard Greenfield). She expressed youthful exuberance with “Fame” (Dean Pitchford/Michael Gore) and saluted disco with a Copa medley that consisted of “I Go to Rio “(Peter Allen/Adrienne Anderson), “Blame It on the Bossa Nova” (Barry Mann/Cynthia Weill) and Barry Manilow/Jack Feldman/Bruce Sussman’s “Copacabana.”
It was nice to hear Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” again after all these years, with Amari joined by pianist Shelly Markham on the second chorus. Markham did a remarkable job throughout the show of providing subtle but effective accompaniment; and, when asked to perform one of his own guilty pleasures, sang Billy Joel’s “If I Only Had the Words to Tell You,” with exuberance and style.
Also joining Amari to share her own guilty pleasure was Andrea Marcovicci, stepping out of the audience to recall her folk-song days in the mid-1970s — “before I became the queen of cabaret,” she joked — with a head-swinging, hair-tossing version of Peter Allen’s “Somebody Beautiful Just Undid Me.”
Amari also put her own simple, evocative spin on “I Honestly Love You” (Peter Allen/Jeff Barry) and camped it up a bit on “Xanadu” (Jeff Lynne) — a song that elicited some friendly groans from the audience, perhaps because Amari had hit on one of its own collective guilty pleasures.
The show’s powerful opening number combined “I’ve Heard That Song Before” (Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn) — dipping back into the 1940s — with “One of Those Songs (“…that you hear now and then…”). (Gerard Calvi/Will Holt), with echoes of “Sing” (Joe Raposo), the last of which also was Amari’s closing song.
The show was directed by Clifford Bell, with musical direction by Markham, based on a show originally directed by Barry Kleinbort with musical direction by Christopher Denny.