Claire Martin - Live at The Oak Room - Wolf Entertainment Guide
I miss Cy Coleman. Not only his music, but him. It was reassuring for those of us who appreciated his songs and show scores to see him about town. Or hear him sing the numbers he wrote. Not that he had a voice. But he communicated the spirit of his work. When he was gone, part of a show biz era went with him.
All of this is by way of stressing how welcome Claire Martin and Richard Rodney Bennett are with their show "'Witchcraft'-the Songs of Cy Coleman" in the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel (May 26 through June 6, 2009). Martin, a Brit, is a superb jazz singer with a special ability to reach for inventiveness in whatever number she chooses. Sir Richard-he was knighted in 1998-is a transplanted Brit who has been in this country for many years and has made his mark as a composer and jazz pianist who has worked with leading singers.
As evidenced on opening night, Bennett and Martin work together with ease. Excellent on piano, Bennett also sometimes sings. Once when I asked Alfred Hitchcock why he made mostly thrillers, he replied, "A shoemaker should stick to his last." Enough said. But given the air of informality with the vocal focus clearly on Martin, when Bennett chimes in one doesn't expect a Bennett named Tony. As for Martin, she consistently sparkles. The duo appropriately teamed on "Witchcraft" (lyrics by Carolyn Leigh) to start the program, with Martin incisively effective in her approach. She then injected energy into "The Best Is Yet to Come" (lyrics by Leigh), and made a real showpiece of "I'm Going to Laugh You Out of My Life" (lyrics by Joseph McCarthy).
It is fascinating to experience how Martin can run a gamut of assorted Coleman numbers, and apply jazzy ups and downs with vocal tones, tempos and mood swings, all the while achieving originality. "Sometimes When You're Lonely," for which Coleman also wrote the lyrics, was deep with emotion, and Martin brought a pensive quality to "Would you Believe" (James Lipton). On the other hand, she could be delightfully perky with a number like "When in Rome"(Leigh), and apply her jazz instincts to "On the Other Side of the Tracks" from the Broadway musical "Little Me."
Reaching into another Coleman musical, "City of Angels," Martin was mesmerizing singing "With Every Breath I Take" (lyrics by David Zippel). The fun that Martin can instill in her interpretations came through loud and clear with "Nobody Does It Like Me" (lyrics by Dorothy Fields), an amusing number about repeatedly screwing up in life. She also lightened the scene with "Ev'rybody Today Is Turning On" (Michael Stewart) from the show "I Love My Wife."
Martin is a particularly welcome British export, and she and Bennett put on a pleasing show that does justice to Cy Coleman's memory and his music that still entertains us.