Have a SWELL Holiday
Versatile entertainer Cortés Alexander, perhaps best known for his frequent work with Liza Minnelli (including her Broadway show "Liza at the Palace"), offered "Have a SWELL Holiday," a single-night cabaret performance at the classy new venue Sterling’s Upstairs, in North Hollywoood, on Monday, Dec. 10.
Alexander’s entertaining revue combined a sprinkling of merry holiday-season tunes mixed with amusing biographical anecdotes and songs for all seasons, including several of his original creations.
Alexander was supported by two spirited backup singers (talented Melissa Bailey, who appeared with Alexander in Broadway’s "Marilyn: An America Fable" in 1983, and vivacious Julie Garnye). There was a fine four-piece combo (Norman Ludwin, bass; Terry Schoenig, percussion; Paul Landry, guitar; and John Boswell, the show’s musical director, on piano).
The bill of fare provided a satisfying mix of lesser known but appealing Broadway show tunes, pop and jazz selections, and a handful of yuletide season selections.
As Alexander suggested toward the end of the evening, the show included a number of melancholy, thoughtful, perhaps downright slow ballads, there might have been a few more songs of this sort than one would expect in a holiday cabaret. Yet Alexander’s nuanced and accomplished singing style, along with his talented guests and fine musicians, provided solid entertainment throughout.
Alexander’s show favored music over patter, but he spoke briefly about his work and longtime friendship with Minnelli, his relationship with his beloved mother, and he offered two amusing confessions about times when his reviews were less than stellar.
In the first such anecdote, he shared some comments from his school report cards, in which his teachers expressed the pluses and minuses of the accomplishments of a precocious youngster who was yet to find his niche in life as an entertainer.
Earlier this year, Alexander appeared in a local production of the vintage mystery thriller "Dangerous Corner," which received mixed notices for its audacious directorial concept of featuring a corpse from the story as an onstage character at the piano, commenting on the actions of the characters. Courageous fellow, that Alexander, considering some of the reviewer comments from this production that he bravely shared with us.
Among Alexander’s original tunes was "Driving Song," a tribute to his first automobile. Fittingly, other songs with a travel motif included Peter Allen’s arresting "Planes" and the captivating "Love on a Greyhound Bus" (lyrics by Kay Thompson and Ralph Blane, music by George Stoll). In a similar vein was "Slow Boat to China," which segued to Frank Loesser’s "Shanghai," both belted with style by Bailey. The sweet-voiced Garnye enjoyed her finest moment in a soaring rendition of "Any Day Now."
The three performers made glorious harmony when they teamed on Irving Berlin’s "How Deep is the Ocean." Alexander’s rendition of his composition, "L.A. to Paris" provided a touching portrait of a long-distance love affair. Among the familiar holiday season songs were buoyant renditions of "Winter Wonderland," "The Christmas Song," and "Jingle Bells," in special arrangements.
Veteran showman Michael Sterling had mastered the art of delectable cuisine mixed with stellar musical entertainment in his prior years producing Sterling’s Upstairs at Vitello’s in Studio City. He continues his notable flair for the supper-club tradition in this spiffy new locale, where he has offered shows since April.