red lights


Soundtracks served up with
snazzy jazz and smooth soul

Play It Again: The Music of Woody Allen
Ravinia Festival
Highland Park, IL
July 26, 2005
Nellie McKay
Nellie McKay
Eartha Kitt
Eartha Kitt
Curtis Stigers
Curtis Stigers

Story and Photos By Andy Argyrakis

Like musicians, actors and filmmakers can be a dime a dozen, but when someone stands out from the mediocre pack, they usually score a rocket ride to superstardom. In the world of movies (particularly the comedy and drama genres) there's few appreciated as much as Woody Allen, a man revered for many on and off screen accomplishments. On top of his own theatrical talents, the multi-faceted creator is also know to stock each production with colorful, extremely notable casts, crazy characters and one liners that have been repeated by the masses for decades after their initial uttering. But another essential and enjoyable thread that runs through all of Allen's works are the soundtracks, some of which date back to the early days of swing, others that cover jazz and plenty examples of soul with doses of a modern New York flair. This latter characteristic was on display at Ravinia with a cast of familiar faces and the venue's orchestra, despite looming lightening, a torrential downpour and a helicopter crash on a neighboring highway.
Oleta Adams It's a shame such variables kept concertgoers away from the normally festive lawn and even some who'd pre-purchased tickets for the acoustically pristine pavilion since this unique event and its combination of singers was indeed a rare happening. However those who were brave enough to endure the windy city's wacky conditions bellowed with laughter over the many lighthearted moments, sung along with smiles on their faces and tapped their toes to the luminous sounds. Throughout a generous two-act show that stretched well beyond two hours, fans were treated to a rotating cast of vocalists like old school diva Eartha Kitt, soul sultan Oleta Adams and the jazz crooners Curtis Stigers and Nellie McKay set behind a spacious string section, full brass line-up and instrumental soloists.
Each took their turns saluting classic films, which were played in snippet format on a large screen behind the orchestra. Early evening examples included an opening medley of selections culled from Radio Days (including "Guess That Tune," "Chinatown, My Chinatown" and "I Don't Want To Walk Without You") plus tunes featured in Sweet and Lowdown. Adams brought the house down with her be-bopping rendition of "There'll Be Some Changes Made" from the latter, which fit perfectly with her solo career's previous patterns. (The songstress is perhaps best known for her time with Tears For Fears during The Seeds of Love era and belting ballads like "Get Here" and "We Will Meet Again"). But in keeping with the context of the show, she stuck to Allen's catalogue and soon turned over the microphone to Eartha Kitt who turned in a flamboyant rendition of "All My Life." The politically outspoken chanteuse who was played Catwoman on Batman in the 1960s (amongst many other roles) delivered the piece with grace and charisma, looking and sounding truly remarkable for someone whose 80th birthday is right around the corner.
Thankfully Curtis Stigers has long since ditched his schmaltzy Michael Bolton style (which yielded the sappy hit "I Wonder Why" in the early 90s) and wholeheartedly visited his jazz roots on recent records. This return to form made him an acceptable candidate for cuts like "Makin' Whoopee" (from Everyone Says I Love You) and "You Are Too Beautiful" (from Hannah and Her Sisters). Fellow jazz artist Nellie McKay evoked a Norah Jones-like shuffle throughout "I'm Through With Love," though she was the least recognizable and memorable compared to the other three. Besides presentations with lyrics, instrumentals abounded throughout the set, which included the extended crest "Rhapsody In Blue." That, along with Adams' carefree caress of "One Day At a Time" (from The Purple Rose of Cairo) and Kitt's tender "All Of Me" (from Sweet and Lowdown) were a three-way tie for the top spot of the night.
Of course a concert with so many people on stage couldn't end without a collective grand finale taken from the acclaimed Mighty Aphrodite. The full cast's choir-like singing of "When You're Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You)" brought everyone to their feet applauding the performances, and most importantly Allen, whose image was once again projected for all to see. It was a proper end to a pleasing presentation that merged the worlds of music and movies and most of all offered homage to the genius of the Manhattan man.

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