Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Review: A Sterling Celebration for a Sterling Gentleman

Michael Sterling (center) with the cast of A Sterling Affair. All photos by A.J. Hernandez

On September 15th, 1 host, 12 singers, 2 musical directors, 1 comedian, and a packed house of friends and invited guests celebrated Michael Sterling’s birthday at Sterling’s Upstairs at the Federal. The night, appropriately titled A Sterling Affair, was a sparkling tribute to the man whose name has come to be synonymous with Los Angeles cabaret.

After a welcome by Mr. Sterling’s business partner and State of the Arts co-host, Paul Stroili, and a few words by the man of the hour, comedian Christopher Meehan opened the show with stories that set the jovial tone for the evening. Then the musical celebration kicked into high gear with a roster of L.A.’s finest musical theatre and jazz artists at the microphone and on the keys.

James Lent, musical director and pianist for the majority of the singers, was featured on “Variations,” a musical mash-up of styles that used the melody of “Happy Birthday” as its point of departure. From Beethoven to boogie woogie, and all manner of classical composers in between, Lent rocked the keys with unforgettable virtuosic flair. 

Cortes Alexander and his Swell Girls Julie Garnye and Melissa Bailey added their good time groove and jazzy vocals to a bright version of “Jump For Joy” while Will Collyer opted for the sweet and moving Sondheim classic “Being Alive.” Luca Ellis lent his signature class to the Sinatra standard “Come Back To Me” in an arrangement that was perfection. It was an elegant choice to honor an even more elegant birthday boy and it transported the entire room back to the smoke filled clubs of a bygone era. Eduardo Enrikez followed it with a dramatic “Finishing the Hat” in an intense departure down a sensual road.

Jenna Lea Rosen and Michael Sterling
No one does comedy like Broadway funny man Jason Graae and his “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” with special lyrics (and a fabulous Mama Rose ending) to fit the Sterling occasion, brought down the house. 14-year old rising star Jenna Lea Rosen’s “Dear Mr. Gershwin,” complete with tap break, was like a breath of fresh air, full of innocent charm and a sweet pop belt that is sure to take her to the Great White Way.

David Burnham and Michael Sterling
Listening to David Burnham and his glorious high notes always makes me smile and his gorgeous duet “For Good,” with the incredibly talented Mark Vogel, captured a sentiment that everyone in the room could say about Mr. Sterling in one way or another. “I do believe I have been changed for the better / because I knew you / I have been changed for good.” There were tears on more than one cheek by the final heartfelt notes.

Sterling stacked the deck with his final three leading ladies who finished the set with three showstopping performances. Joan Ryan, backed by Vogel, gave “Shall We Dance” from The King and I the slow jazzy treatment, with delicate nuances and an emotionally rich belt. Nita Whitaker LaFontaine is just plain amazing; loaded with personality, poised beyond measure, and well-schooled in what to do with a money note. Yes, indeed, and “Since I Fell For You,” also with Vogel on piano, proved once again why she was named Female Grand Champion on the original Star Search.

Terri White and Michael Sterling
And finally, the amazing Terri White brought it all home with Artie Butler’s “Here’s To Life,” dripping with passion and delivered with the knowingness of a woman who’s been around the block. It was a final manhattan toast to the man of the hour. The one and only Michael Sterling.

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