Raissa Katona Bennett
Can’t Help Singing – The Music of Jerome Kern
Laurie Beechman Theatre, NYC, April 26, 2018
Reviewed by Bart Greenberg for Cabaret Scenes
What a joy it is to hear a confident and lovely vocalist sing some of the greatest songs written for the American musical theater. Raissa Katona Bennett revived her salute to Jerome Kern from seven years ago to coincide with the release of her live CD of the earlier concert at the much-missed Feinstein’s at Loews Regency. While her voice has barely changed in the intervening years, her interpretation of the lyrics has deepened and become more intriguing.
One of the surprising aspects of the evening is that, for a program devoted to a fabled composer, Bennett’s stellar handling of the words made it something very special: whether finding the depth of emotions in “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” (lyrics: Otto Harbach); the sensuous seductiveness of “Remind Me” (Dorothy Fields); or the kittenish humor of “She Didn’t Say Yes” (Harbach). She made interesting choices in word emphasis: in the classic “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” (Oscar Hammerstein II) it is the “that” that is stressed, making it a very personal choice of lover rather than the action of “loving.”
The song selection was an imaginative mix of classics and less-known items, such as the inviting “Let’s Begin” (Harbach) and a very jazzy “Hey, Feller” (Hammerstein). Bennett alternated between a presentational style and a more intimate approach, such as in her tribute to her marriage with a blending of “Dearly Beloved” (Johnny Mercer) and the timeless “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” (Hammerstein).
Of course, no singer does it by herself, and this performer was wise enough to surround herself with the best: director Eric Michael Gillett; music director Jon Weber (who also joined in on a dandy “Pick Yourself Up” (Fields); and bass player Tom Hubbard. We can only hope that Bennett will continue to not be able to help singing for some time to come.