“Hip To Be Happy”
Don’t Tell Mama – April 7, 16, 22
A bubbly redhead given to holding a smiley-face umbrella today as surely as she was given to wearing a smiley-face dress when she was eight years old, Teresa Fischer seems terminally happy, and therefore terminally hip. We don’t need the title song (by Ann Hampton Callaway) of this largely bouncy set to understand that Teresa Fischer likes to sing on the sunny side of the street and very much likes what she does for a living. Will she ever do a ballad, one wonders, and if so, will she do it well? You have to wait a bit to find out.
“Don’t let this Pollyanna face and the dimples fool you,” Fischer says early on, “I like to raise hell.” She also likes “patter in the middle of songs, key changes,” medleys and Mary Chapin Carpenter songs, and puts them all to good use. Her song selection is original and organic to her attitude and talents, which are pretty straight-ahead, me-to-you singing. “I just scatted two full measures,” she beams with teenage delight after one number, jazz not really being in her wheelhouse.
“Are You Havin’ Any Fun?” (Jack Yellen, Sammy Fain), she asks in her second number, and we in the audience already are, thanks to her infectious enthusiasm and the arrangement by her longtime accompanist Paul Chamlin. She soon does one of my favorite cabaret things, resurrecting a good song that no one remembers. In this case it’s “Coax Me a Little Bit” (Juan Tizol) from the flip side of a Dinah Shore 45. Chamlin also arranged “Everything I’ve Got Belongs to You” (Rodgers & Hart) with the verve of one long attuned to Fischer’s singing style. The inevitable Chapin Carpenter medley (“The Way I Feel”/”I Am a Town”) was arranged with equal sensitivity to the singer by Andrew Sotomayor.
Sotomayor arranged nine of the 14 numbers in Fischer’s set, including one medley that could have been a cliché and wasn’t. Weaving together four familiar paeans to New York, the city Fischer adopted decades ago, arranger, singer and accompanist made them fresh. “Take Me Back to Manhattan” and “I Happen to Like New York” (both Cole Porter), the original “New York, New York” (Bernstein, Comden & Green), and even “NYC” (Martin Charnin, Charles Strouse, from Annie) work in a way you’ve never heard them before.
About that ballad: Chamlin arranged the “Coffee Medley” consisting of three songs in a row, with no interweaving, or mash-up in modern parlance. After two lively songs, “Java Jive” (Milton Drake, Ben Oakland) and “The Coffee Song” (better known as “They’ve Got an Awful Lot of Coffee in Brazil”) by Bob Hilliard and Dick Miles, he and Fischer give us “Black Coffee” (Paul Francis Webster, Sonny Burke), delivered in the only way it should be. As Fischer notes, with seeming surprise at the end, “That medley turned dark.” Not to worry, she immediately expunged the memory of it with the Callaway title song. Fischer encores with Amanda McBroom’s “No Fear.” Lady T, as she likes to call herself (a bit too frequently), clearly has none when it comes to her songs.
About the Author
Robert Windeler is the author of 18 books, including biographies of Mary Pickford, Julie Andrews, Shirley Temple, and Burt Lancaster. As a West Coast correspondent for The New York Times and Time magazine, he covered movies, television and music, and he was an arts and entertainment critic for National Public Radio. He has contributed to a variety of other publications, including TV Guide, Architectural Digest, The Sondheim Review, and People, for which he wrote 35 cover stories. He is a graduate of Duke University in English literature and holds a masters in journalism from Columbia, where he studied critical writing with Judith Crist. He has been a theatre critic for Back Stage since 1999, writes reviews for BistroAwards.com, and is a member of The Players and the American Theatre Critics Association.