“Some Like It Hot – The Music of Marilyn Monroe”
Feinstein’s at Loews Regency – August 9 – 13
Early in her program of songs that Marilyn Monroe sang, Rebecca Kilgore stated her view that many people don’t realize how good a singer Monroe was. She had good timing, good intonation, and she swung,” Kilgore explained. She’ll get no argument from me. What’s more, I could use those same words to describe Kilgore’s singing. I could add that her voice is mellifluous and smooth, with an occasional catch that lends texture and character, and that she delivers her material with effortless directness, as though she had nothing to prove. She is wonderfully easy to listen to.
Her show was thoughtfully put together. The songs were presented chronologically, based on the year Monroe sang them—from “Every Baby Needs a Da-Da-Daddy” (Alan Robert, Lester Lee, from Ladies of the Chorus, 1948) to two Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen numbers from Let’s Make Love (1960): the title song and “Incurably Romantic.” She ended with a piece written two decades after the star’s death: “Marilyn Monroe” by Alan Broadbent and Dave Frishberg; it’s a banal song that isn’t up to Frishberg’s normally high level (I’m not familiar with Broadbent’s catalogue) nor is it worthy of its subject. Kilgore’s intelligent and informative narration provided just the right level of detail about the songs and about Monroe.
Kilgore’s natural expression seemed to be a smile, and that characterized her interpretations, which were almost unfailingly sunny and cheerful. Perversely, this became a problem: though for some time everything was hunky-dory, after a while I longed for depth and substance. As an example, her rendition of “Incurably Romantic” flowed pleasingly, but how about exploring the lyric, how about an interpretation?
Contributing to this problem was the instrumental accompaniment by the Harry Allen Quartet (Allen on tenor saxophone, Rossano Sportiello on piano, Joel Forbes on bass, Chuck Riggs on drums). As musicians, all four deserve very high marks; their performance of “Runnin’ Wild” (music by A. Harrington Gibbs) as an instrumental was terrific, setting up a spirited dialogue between the saxophone and the piano, with the bass and drums supporting them with a frenzied rhythm. However, the instrumental arrangements for the vocal numbers were nearly all lightly swinging. Quite pleasant and adroitly played, to be sure, but in time the sameness yielded a diminishing return.
When Kilgore announced that the next selection would be “the torch song from Some Like It Hot” (“I’m Through with Love,” by Gus Kahn, Matty Malneck, and Fud Livingston) I thought to myself, “Ah, finally!” But ah, ’twas not to be. With a bluesy, almost mournful quality, the saxophone did its part, but the underlying beat and the tinkling piano kept the proceedings too light, and Kilgore’s rendition didn’t get beneath the surface. By contrast, in the film, even with a too-schmaltzy orchestration behind her, Monroe succeeded in conveying considerable feeling in her vocal.
So, unfortunately, part-way through the evening, what had been very easy to listen to lapsed into easy listening. The following quote by Bucky Pizzarelli appears on Kilgore’s web site: “If Benny Goodman were alive today, he’d hire Becky to sing in his band.” Just so. Indeed, what this show gave us was a world-class band singer. However, I suspect she’s capable of stronger, more distinctive work.
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.