Tag Archives: The Beatles

Lena Hall Makes It Home

27 Apr

April 24 and 25 Lena Hall appeared at the Nikko Hotel’s Feinstein Room, presumably to capacity crowds both nights. I managed a reservation for Saturday buying Viognier and some cheese for what seemed a modest price to listen to one ninety minute performance of Lena and four musicians. She
appeared with her musical director, Watt White, plus three locals, piano, drums and guitar whom she praised for a first-time Thursday night rehearsal of her set.

For those of you unfamiliar with her name, Lena Hall won a Tony recently for her appearance in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, plus a two-week gig at New York City’s Carlyle Hotel. Behind her were leads in Kinky Boots, Tarzan and a good stretch in Cats, the musical in which she made her first professional appearance in one of its traveling ensembles. She was just twenty when I saw her in Cats in San Jose.

There she stood for ninety minutes in a two-piece nearly total silver sequin outfit, (fabric unadorned from mid-back shoulder to waist), and an ingenious left hand, middle ring finger through wrist set of crystal beads accessory and pumps with their current fashion of extra high wedge, belting out songs I never heard of nor did I find particularly captivating. (You need to realize that mine is the Frank Sinatra, Perry Como generation for popular music choices; Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin or the Beatles were mostly lost on me.)

What mesmerized me was the strength of the voice emerging from Hall’s slender body with the possessor’s command of impeccable American Southern takes on the English language. It was little surprise Hall helped herself to sips of water from a plastic bottle frequently. Via a Southern-born maternal grandmother, I am attuned to a drawl and the softness of tone, while surprised at the punch of Hall’s delivery and her sustenato in the final line of the lyrics.

Hall was received with deafening applause. Next to me was Jared Kassof, a young executive from Sephora, who had seen her on Broadway and had become a good fan of hers; he said he had obtained the last seat available for this show.

During the ninety minutes Lena provided introductory comments to most, if not all, the songs she had selected, Led Zepplin was familiar to me, but the names of Eric Clapton, David Byrne and Tori Amos sent me to Wikipedia to expand contemporary musical education. I found Clapton’s use of a French phrase, je’c’est ca, plus “fa,fa,fa” an intriguing foray into that funny mixture fo English and French which can appear so affected, but in song, okay. Lena’s comment that “for her generation” Tori Amos was like Chopin was equally provocative, taking Wikipedia’s info to understand.

Mid-way through the concert, Lena talked about herself, mentioning her Tony and a benefit concert for Elaine Stritch at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre where the Carlyn Hotel management approached her regarding a gig. Lena remarked, “But you know I’m not a sweet ballad style,” or words to that effect. The management said they wanted to attract a younger crown and to do “whatever you want.” Her gig there included Bynre’s “Psycho-Killer” and the use of a tambourine. Lena also disclosed growing up in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, mentioning the colorful interior of the family home.

Periodically a man in front of me rose enthusiastically, after Lena had finished either head and torso forward or arched backward, all depending on the nature of the lyrics. At times the atmosphere, despite the glowing scarlet draperies, mike and musicians, seemed a tad like a carnival with Hall as the sideshow barker, edgy though free of tawdry qualities.

All this, plus the many times her face at an angle displayed the same jawline of her mother Carolyn, a quality in her smile part of the smarts her mother had given her which Lena had cheerfully accepted as part of her heritage of talent. Carlos, her father, said Lena’s ear had always been acute and that she had picked up Chopin on the piano without lessons, simply by hearing the tones and replicating them on the keys.

The intimate crowd provided a standing ovation at the conclusion of Lena Hall’s set. She stood outside, obliging fans with photographs, poised, friendly. Carlos greeted Lena’s former classmates at SOTA, the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, while Carolyn and I shared impressions about the facial similarities. As Carlos Carvajal likes to say of his daughter, born Celina, “From Manila to Broadway in four generations.”

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Caminos Flamencos’ Canciones November 30

4 Dec

A drizzly Sunday matinee took Brooke Byrne and me to the Cowell Theatre at Fort Mason to see the matinee of two performances of Caminos Flamencos’ Canciones with Yaelisa’s seven stalwarts, Manuel Guiterrez, Marina Elena, Fanny Ara, Melissa Cruz, Devon Le Russa, Molly Rogers and Christina Zanfagna. The singers included Jesus Montoya and Jose Cortes with musicians Jason McGuire “El Rubio’, drummer/cajon player Marion Aldana and Paul Martin Sounder on the upright bass.

Canciones implies lyrics of which there were aplenty. Alas, those in Spanish were not clarified with an English translation so that words like “Luna,” and “Corazon,” proved the principal Spanish words most in the audience understood. Doubtlesst  many Spanish-speaking flamenco aficionados were in the audience; for us ignoramouses a tadt of translating would go a long way to intensify the experience of Yaelisa’s continued invention.

Out of the fifteen separate numbers in the program, eight were created and danced to popular lyrics, featuring individual dancers in their own choreography, performed following a Verdiales by the company and a rousing Zapateado rendered by the musicians.

Yaelisa led off with L. Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ before the company danced to the Beatles ‘Because’. The songs chosen lent themselves to turns and taconeo as well as flamenco port de bras, adapting to the lyrics. This was particularly true for Fanny Ara’s interpretation of Arcade Fire’s “My Body Is A Cage,” where her arms lunged outward, as if her body was pressed against jailhouse bars.

Manuel Gutierrez ‘s performance to Leon Russell’s “A Song For You,” sung by Ray Charles, was enhanced by three pools of light and three successive encounters with women who simply moved on. Gutierrez uses his feet in a most elegant manner and positions hat and jacket to theatrical effect.

Just before intermission the company gathered for “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” sung by The Police. Following intermission, the company danced to a Stevie Wonder rendition of “Pastime Paradise,.” a multi-hued umbrella adding cheek and spice.

The last two interpretations of pop songs were danced by Devon La Russa, “Wake” to Linkin Park, La Russa in Black and dancing with strong modern dance overtones; Melissa Cruz selected “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” sung by Aretha Franklin, Cruz attired like a ragamuffin; mismatched clothing, a substantial blue scarf.

The three musicians then changed the ambiance with Contratempo A La Luz de La Luna, and the orthodox flamenco section began with Fanny Ara. Ara’s Tangos de Malaga was enhanced by a cream-colored sheath,  small ruffles at hem, neckline and sleeves of ombre rusts and brown were a knockout, emphasizing the luxurious swivel of her hips and the insistence of her taconeo. Brooke Byrne remarked, “For my money, Fanny Ara and Melissa Cruz can do no wrong.”

Alegrias was interpreted by Marina Elana, small, tawny of hair, dressed in white with a tasseled white scarf which she manipulated as the dance required her body to turn left and right as her feet emphasized a pattern with heel and metatarsals, all with the air , “Oh, you think so – well, I’ll show you.” This combative quality ending with a flourish after she had divested herself of her scarf, and, at the last minute, thrust it around her shoulders, “So there!”.

Manuel Gutierrez interpreted a Fandangos, frequently considered a couples dance and with castanets. Minus castanets, Gutierrez made his interpeetation memorable.

Yaelisa likes closing programs with Siguiriyas. It suits her, the eloquence of her arms and hands. In addition to this distinction, her interest in stretching the flamenco medium into something typically contemporary in American pop music is to be applauded, even though for me, the tradition remains the most exciting part of her faithful ensemble.

The audience clearly loved the program, and when Gutierrez’ little son came tripping across the stage and was persuaded to exercise his small feet in a barrage of taconeo. The image of the ensemble warmly encouraging this representative of the next generation was quite endearing.

David Szasla is to be congratulated on the spare ambiance of his lighting design.