By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III “The People’s Critic”
[All photos by ThePeoplesCritic.com. Click any photo to enlarge]
No, it wasn’t a Christmas show. Not yet. That treat is just around the corner for Houston’s popular Lone Star Lyric cabaret, and more about that later. This month’s offering, titled “‘Round Midnight,” was a lush showcase of classic standards from the American Songbook, paired with some of the finest vocal and instrumental talent ever to set foot on the stage at Houston’s chic and cozy nightclub, Ovations.
For this, the group’s 14th Anniversary year, company Artistic Director & Co-founder, Kelli Estes was in fine vocal form, and just as glittering as the stunning necklace she wore about her neck. But on this occasion she was not the lone golden voice on the stage, as she was joined by two Broadway-caliber gents, Lee Gregory and Stephonne Smith.
But before sampling any of those talents, we first meet LSL’s gifted musicians as the instrumental trio took to the stage to offer the show’s jazzy title tune. Music Director, Rob Hunt, opened the number literally dancing across the keys with a crisp and delightful intro on piano. He was quickly joined by the simmering percussion of drummer, Ben Atkinson, and the solid bass work of Steve Martin. All of that played out under the ever evolving pastel lighting from designer, Jim Elliott.
But on to the great musical selections that followed, opening with a unique (and very successful) arrangement for the guys, as Stephonne and Lee performed a most unusual counterpoint duet of, “One for My Baby.” Their deep and powerful baritone voices blended so smoothly I wondered if we should go home right then after such a “tough act to follow.” But not to worry as the band transitioned to seductive Latin rhythms for Kelli’s sparkling, “A Night Like This,” and then handsome Mr. Gregory’s resonant baritone produced a very solid, “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” It really did make you want to head to the ballroom, and perhaps it could only have been improved if he had a steamer to smooth his rumpled white suit.
Stephonne’s resounding, “All By Myself,” was peppered by playful and wide-eyed flirtations with audience members, but he wasn’t by himself for long as Kelli soon joined the number with a cheerful, “Can’t We Be Friends?”
Lee returns with a true voice for musical theatre that reminded one of Howard Keel during the, “The Girl Next Door,” adaptation of the original, “Boy Next Door,” more familiar to Judy Garland fans.
With spotlights highlighting her lush crown of red hair, Kelli returned with bird-like vocal purity for a restful, “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” that featured a relaxing interlude from the trio. Stephonne shows his story-telling skill with a thoughtful, “Say It Isn’t So,” that ends in a soft vocal whisper, and Lee follows with a vocal laser beam for the fun of “Lulu’s Back in Town.” There’s a nice reflection on the Cotton Club era stars like Ellington, Armstrong & Fitzgerald, as Stephonne offers a memorable, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” The stars would close out Act One with a merry trio of Cole Porter’s, “Let’s Fall in Love.”
The fun would continue following Intermission as Ms. Estes called a talented friend to the stage.
Audience member, Brooks Christensen, was celebrating his birthday, and proceeded to cheerfully prove his worth as a ragtime pianist with a dazzling and joyous performance of the “Pickles & Peppers Rag.” The cheering audience jumped to its feet. Then it was on to the countless Act Two delights that included the band’s wonderful take on, “Green Dolphin Street,” Stephonne’s prancing, “Pennies From Heaven,” and his smooth as silk, “Satin Doll,” Lee’s sassy and playfully aggressive, “All of Me,” his powerful pairing of, “Impossible,” with “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance,” and his deliciously outlandish and flamboyant, “Just a Gigolo.” Kelli renewed her diva credentials with a feisty, scat-singing of, “My Man,” and a haunting, “In My Solitude,” that smoothly transitioned to a rich, “Mood Indigo” that was bathed in very blue lighting. Then she hit a stunning home run with a masterful, “If You Go Away” that even embraced some of the original French lyrics of “Ne me quitte pas.”
The threesome united for the joyful closing medley of “Why Can’t You Behave,” “Let’s Misbehave,” and “Always True to You.” But they plan more seasonal joy for the fans on December 14th with their upcoming show, HOLIDAY FRUITCAKE, described as a “…decadent dish of holiday hilarity…like any good fruitcake, sweet with plenty of nuts…a classy swingin’ affair full of holiday tunes.” The Ovations Night Club is located in Houston’s Rice Village neighborhood at 2536 Times Blvd. For LSL tickets or information call 917-414-9577, or visit the website at www.LoneStarLyric.org (Email: LoneStarLyric@gmail.com).
A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the columns of DAVID DOW BENTLEY III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.