“It’s About Time”
Stage 72 – March 10
Gail Nelson-Holgate has a regal, elegant bearing and a gracious rapport with her listeners. At this one-off performance, she approached her largely jazz-inflected repertoire (featuring arrangements by Danny Holgate) with seriousness, but leavened the proceedings with dashes of fun.
Her patter was obviously scripted, and a little stiff at times. In fact, she lost her place at a key point during an anecdote, but she was able to laugh at her mishap, turning the glitch into an intimate moment of candor with her audience, which seemed to appreciate her wry acknowledgment of the memory lapse. I hope the incident may help convince Nelson-Holgate to wing things a bit more in future shows—to utilize a basic outline but feel freer to speak off the cuff within such a framework.
She began the show with Charles Aznavour’s “gather-ye-rosebuds”-themed “Le Temps (There Is a Time).” This gradually accelerating mad waltz handily introduced the show’s “It’s About Time” conceit, which was reinforced with the next two numbers, “From This Moment On” (Cole Porter) and “Bridges” (Milton Nascimento, Fernando Brant, Gene Lees). The theme came and went throughout the set, but Nelson-Holgate reinforced it toward the end by making her pre-encore finale a reprise of “Le Temps,” paired with Craig Doerge and Paul Williams’s “Life Goes On.”
Nelson-Holgate is a jazz-oriented vocalist who is also a longtime theatrical performer. (She mentioned her appearance in the 1960s Broadway musical Hello, Dolly!, with Pearl Bailey, and in several other musicals.) Perhaps it’s her acting background that helped her to provide such warm and heartfelt musical colors when she tackled numbers from the Great American Songbook (including show tunes such as Jerry Herman’s “Before the Parade Passes By,” from Dolly!). Nelson-Holgate pays attention to lyrics. She may break into scat passages in the course of a number, but she doesn’t really veer too far in the direction of “cool,” emotionally detached jazz. Her version of Rodgers and Hart’s “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” for instance, was an outpouring of feeling in which her voice seemed almost to throb with romantic tenderness.
On the other hand, I was happy that she chose a breezy, up-tempo approach for Artie Butler and Phyllis Molinary’s “Here’s to Life,” a song that seems to have trumped Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here” as the “diva-has-endured” fallback song. The faster pace put some life back into “Here’s to Life,” which, after all, should be celebratory rather than funereal.
One musical genre in which Nelson-Holgate seems not to shine so brightly is hand-clapping mainstream pop. Her version of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” was a vehicle for segueing into selections written by and/or associated with Duke Ellington. But her interpretation didn’t add anything particularly revelatory or interesting to the Wonder number, which came off as a relatively insignificant sidebar of a song. Once she moved on to Ellington and Luther Henderson’s much more substantial “Love You Madly,” though, she was back in her element.
One high point in the program was an extended Gershwins medley that Nelson-Holgate customarily performs with symphony orchestras; at Stage 72, she relied on the solid accompaniment of pianist Howard Begun and bassist David Jackson. Begun offered a taste of “Rhapsody in Blue” after which Nelson-Holgate sang “Fascinating Rhythm,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and “I Got Rhythm.” Toward the end, she playfully interjected a scatting passage that sampled the “Flintstones” TV theme song. But I doubt that that musical joke would have made even staunch Gershwin purists quibble. The medley was altogether lovely.
Her encore was Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr.’s “God Bless the Child.” It takes some nerve to sign off with a Billie Holiday signature song, especially when you wear a gardenia blossom in your hair. Nelson-Holgate’s version of the song made no attempt to imitate the Holiday sound or stylings, but was nevertheless both showy and soulful. It made for a strong finish.
About the Author
Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. He began writing reviews for BistroAwards.com in 2011. More recently he has contributed "Cabaret Setlist" articles about cabaret repertoire. Other reviews and articles have appeared in theaterscene.net and clydefitchreport.com, as well as in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival. He is currently literary manager for Broad Horizons Theatre Company.