Jackie Fornatale

January 14, 2010

“Get Ready – Jackie Fornatale Sings Motown”

Don’t Tell Mama  –  November 15, 22, January 10, March 4, 18

Jackie Fornatale opens her tribute to Motown walking through the house singing “Dancing in the Street” (William “Mickey” Stevenson, Marvin Gaye, Ivy Hunter). Immediately, the audience is swept up in a spirit of joyous ebullience, and for the next hour, Fornatale and Co. keep the crowd in a state of euphoria and charged enthusiasm. It’s hard to say who’s having more fun during that hour—the spectators or the people on stage. What a high!

Credit is due everyone associated with the show: Lennie Watts, who directed; musical director Gerry Dieffenbach, who provided the robust and rousing arrangements and leads the spirited band (Dieffenbach on piano, Mike Fornatale on guitar, Matthew Lindsey on bass, Eddy Zweiback on drums); Liz Lark Brown for her powerhouse back-up vocals (with additional energetic vocal support from Dieffenbach and Mike Fornatale); and at the center of it all, Fornatale, herself—not only does she sing up a storm, her patter is charming, natural, and funny, and one can tell that for her this is a project of love.

One factor contributing to the evening’s high pleasure quotient is that unlike much pop music of the past few decades, most of the Motown songs are as appealing melodically and as benign in outlook as they are infectious rhythmically. Take Smokey Robinson’s “My Guy,” “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” (Brenda Holloway, Patrice Holloway, Frank Wilson, Berry Gordy. Jr.), “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” (Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland), and “Up the Ladder to the Roof” (Frank Wilson, Vincent DiMirco), to cite just a few examples. Swell songs, aren’t they?

Fornatale doesn’t simply deliver solid pop renditions of this material, she adds some cabaret artistry: acting, for one thing—observe her facial expressions and you’ll see the song’s meaning; wit for another—for example, her humorous delivery of a line in “You Can’t Hurry Love” (Holland, Dozier, Holland) or her self-mocking adaptation of Motown choreography.

While Motown tends to be rather direct and unsophisticated, I submit that Stevie Wonder’s “All in Love Is Fair,” “Just Loving You” (John Allen, William “Mickey” Stevenson), and Ed Cobb’s “Every Little Bit Hurts” have as much emotional texture as more classic ballads in the Great American Songbook, and Fornatale gives them sensitive, nuanced interpretations. And look what depth she’s discovered in the Martha and the Vandellas hit “Heat Wave” (Holland, Dozier, Holland).

At the end of the show, the audience, practically to a man, bursts out cheering. (This happened at each of the two performances I attended.) Watch for a return engagement. [March dates have just been scheduled.]


About the Author

Roy Sander has been covering cabaret and theatre for over thirty years. He’s written cabaret and theatre reviews, features, and commentary for seven print publications, most notably Back Stage, and for CitySearch on the Internet. He covered cabaret monthly on “New York Theatre Review” on PBS TV, and cabaret and theatre weekly on WLIM-FM radio. He was twice a guest instructor at the London School of Musical Theatre. A critic for BistroAwards.com, he is also the site’s Reviews Editor; in addition, he is Chairman of the Advisory Board of MAC.