Feinstein’s at Loews Regency – December 5
British singer Joanna Strand was supposed to have made appearances at the Metropolitan Room several weeks ago, but that engagement was thwarted by Hurricane Sandy. She was able to play New York after all with this one-nighter at Feinstein’s. Her show, “Fly Transatlantic,” traced an adventurous young love affair that hopscotches back and forth between London and Manhattan, with some side trips to continental Europe.
Strand is a very prepossessing young woman, with a bright and almost omnipresent smile. When she’s at her most relaxed, there’s something in her demeanor that’s reminiscent of young Georgia Brown. But Strand didn’t seem very relaxed at Feinstein’s. She came across throughout, in fact, as stiff and tense. Her eyes weren’t always certain about where to focus. Her left hand was often tensed like a hawk’s talons as she clutched the mic with her right. She wore a sexy, shimmering silver dress that she compared late in the show to a Christmas tree, but for all but the final couple of numbers, she wore a tailored jacket over it. This garment made her look even more restricted, with the visible stitching under the arms adding to the truss-like effect.
Opening with Paul Simon’s “America,” Strand sang in a voice that was pretty but neither powerful nor distinctive. For the first few phrases of the number, she found herself singing into a dead microphone, but even when it was replaced with a live one, the voice lacked oomph. The musicians overpowered her on many if not most numbers—a problem that might or might not have been alleviated by some adjustments from a sound technician.
She performed in a variety of styles, offering standards, jazz-inflected numbers, and songs by such contemporary musical-theatre composers as Jason Robert Brown and Adam Guettel. She found, perhaps, the best material for her vocal type with a striking pairing of the Irish folk song “She Moved Through the Fair” and “Chasing Cars” by Gary Lightbody of the group Snow Patrol. Here, a sweet and plaintive quality emerged. Sometimes when she sang in her upper register, as she did on portions of “On My Way to You” (Michel Legrand, Marilyn & Alan Bergman), some lovely, operetta-ready notes were heard. But Strand clearly hasn’t found her signature sound quite yet, nor the precise stage persona that will help define her as a performer.
Fortunately—for listeners if not for the singer herself—Strand’s band, led by enthusiastic musical director John Bailey on piano, was first-rate throughout, and many of the arrangements were quite beautiful. Bassist Nick Pini approximated a bagpipe sound on “She Moved Through the Fair,” while percussionist Ziv Ravitz created sounds of surf and seagull on Peggy Lee and Johnny Mandel’s “The Shining Sea.” Romano Viazzani’s accordion, meanwhile, added richness throughout the evening—along with some appealing dissonances on a vertiginous arrangement of “The Windmills of Your Mind” (Legrand and the Bergmans, again).
I hope that Strand will continue to work toward establishing her brand as a performer and that, once she finds it, she will embrace it with a confidence that will fortify her stage presence. And when she’s ready for another go in New York, she should definitely bring back the guys from her band.
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.