Kevin on Kabaret :: Maytime
One of the most delightful talents to rise up in the cabaret scene in the last few years is Nicole Henry. The Pennsylvania-born, Miami-based beauty calls herself "a singer who loves to sing jazz" and she has indeed risen to great heights rather quickly. Henry has already picked up a Bistro Award, tours around the world, and this month headlines at Feinstein’s at Loew’s Regency. Two of her albums have also charted high up on the Billboard Jazz chart.
Not bad for someone who left the University of Miami (she majored in theater and communications) and began making an impact on the Miami club scene in 2004. When I reviewed her a few years ago, I noted that her voice has some similarity to Whitney Houston’s, albeit with jazz stylings.
"I loved singing her ballads and would sing her songs in competitions when I was younger," Nicole admitted to me in phone call from Minneapolis, where she was opening for Don Rickles-the first time she’s ever opened for a comedy act.
Nicole Henry has great wit and often snaps back to her audience’s outbursts like a comic herself-a quality not often associated with jazz singers. "I love laughing and sometimes I have to stop myself on stage," she told me. "I tell my band to make sure to start playing so I don’t make a fool of myself-I’ll throw myself under a bus for a laugh."
The ever-busy vocalist loves her touring and has no immediate plans to settle down. "I’d like to settle into more of a routine," she said. "I’m not a signed artist and don’t have a full team behind me yet, but I’m building more of my office in Miami, which is allowing me more time to travel. In the last six months, it’s become more of a machine." Nicole now tries to get to New York a couple times a month and loves spending time here.
This summer, she also plans to start auditioning and perhaps taking an acting class or two. "Even before singing, I loved acting and always saw myself acting. I want to get back to it."
For now, though, she’s concentrating on her new show, which will focus on the music of the ’70s. "My parents had music from the ’70s and I grew up listening to it," she said. "The Commodores, the Spinners, Gladys Knight. The challenge for this show was seeing what we could do with a small, acoustic band. Between the groove and the lyrics, there is something in this show for everyone."
I asked her if this marked a branching out for her. "In my career, I want to create new music, not just the standards from the ’30s and ’40s," she said. "So this brings it a little more up-to-date."
Nicole Henry appears at Feinstein’s at Loew’s Regency, May 8-12. You’re gonna be thanking me for this recommendation, folks. Trust me . . .
The amazing Jessica Sherr returns to the Triad on W. 72nd Street with her one-woman show, "Bette Davis Ain’t For Sissies," on Friday, May 11th. If you think this is another over-the-top drag performance, think again. Sherr has recreated the young Bette of 1940 on Oscar night-the only time the Oscar winners were ever leaked in advance of the show (which plays into the narrative, of course).
"She was only thirty-one and a redhead at that time," Sherr told me. "I want to give audiences something they don’t know about her. I know some people are coming in expecting to see Baby Jane and if I can get past that, I’m happy."
Sherr started the project on a dare some five years ago when a friend told her if she wanted to be a real actress she had to do a one-woman show. "The week after that, I was doing some photos-I’m into the pin-up girls-and imitating Betty Grable, but then my friend looked at them and said I had Bette Davis eyes," Sherr said. "So I began doing short pieces in class and then spent a year and half doing research." Eventually, her show was chosen for the Fringe Festival in the summer of 2011, which made it necessary to expand it into a full-length piece.
"The funny thing is, I didn’t grow up watching Bette Davis, so I didn’t realize what I was getting into," Sherr laughed. But the clean slate helped her to get to the truth of the real person and not a caricature. "It’s a young Bette Davis in her early years, fighting for what she wants and not yet the big star she became," Sherr explained. "There’s an essence of young Bette Davis that gets lost in old Bette Davis. She was really quite naïve."
Impressively, Sherr stands outside of Fairway with her postcards and talks to strangers about her show. At one of her shows at the Triad earlier this year, she counted eighteen people who had come from her sidewalk chats. Take that, social networkers! I’ve seen this show myself and it’s a tour-de-force. Go see the hardworking Sherr play the hardworking Davis!
Largely because of my work here at EDGE Media Network, this past year I was asked to be on the esteemed Bistro Awards Committee, which is comprised of critics and journalists who cover the cabaret scene. Well, the awards were given out on April 23rd and might I say, "Nobody does it better!" All the performers in various categories were standouts, but the biggest treats came at the end of the show. Tony and Grammy winner Dee Dee Bridgewater (Ongoing Achievement in Jazz) missed her plane but waltzed in just in time, dressed in airplane-wear and with her little dog on a leash, came to the stage and stunned the audience with two rollicking numbers-theatrical jazz at its best.
Then, to cap the evening, Marvin Hamlisch (too many awards to name) presented the final award (Outstanding Achievement in American Popular Music) to Melissa Manchester . . . then proceeded to sit down at the piano and play "Through the Eyes of Love" for her while she sang. That doesn’t happen every day, folks! See the two photos by Jim Baldassare from an evening few will forget. Remember the Bistros next year!
And now, Kev’s Faves for May: Theater great Andre DeShields, whom we haven’t seen in a while, is at the Laurie Beechman Theatre every Friday at 11:00 . . . John Farslund presents "Off the Books! A Cole Porter Unpublished Cabaret"-that’s right, Porter’s unpublished songs-at the Duplex on May 16th and 26th . . .
2012 Bistro winner Jean Brassard revives his winning show "Jean Brassard Sings Yves Montand" at The Triad, May 20th and 22nd . . . and jazz crooner Steve Tyrell, who has been riding high on the Billboard charts with his "I’ll Take Romance" CD this year, comes to the Café Carlyle, May 15th-26th. Ah, springtime in New York-nothing like it!
I’ll be back here in June. Until then, I’ll see you over cocktails.