Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Review: Maura Hanlon Smith in Life, Love and All that Comes With It

Maura Hanlon Smith and Michael Sterling
at the Rosemary Clooney Table
Michael Sterling celebrated the 8th anniversary of his popular Supper Club, Sterling’s Upstairs at the Federal, on Monday, June 9th, continuing a tradition he began in 2006 to honor his dear friend and mentor, Rosemary Clooney

Sterling promised her that he would always make sure future generations would be able to hear the music of Broadway and the Great American Songbook in LA. A man of his word, he has presented over 600 shows since closing his doors at his original venue at Vitello’s and opening at The Federal in 2012.

Each year, on the club’s anniversary, he sets a table in her memory bearing a white rose, a glass of white wine, and a stunning black & white photograph of the 19-year old singer given to him by Clooney late in life. The inscription reads, “For Michael, The way I was. Close your eyes. I really love you very much.  –Rosemary Clooney 6-27-75

It was fitting then that this anniversary concert featured another dear friend of Sterling’s in her return to the stage, vivacious Maura Hanlon Smith in Life, Love and All That Comes With It. Directed with impeccable taste and an eye to keeping it real by director Robert Marra, and featuring some stylish arrangements by musical director and pianist, John Dickson, Smith expressed her love of music – specifically jazz and musical theatre – and took the audience on a touching and humorous journey through her last four tumultuous years.

Had she done the show earlier she says it would have been full of “victim ballads and poetry…original poetry,” and then she gave us a taste of what it would have sounded like. The comic mash-up of victim songs - “Stormy Weather,” “As Long As He Needs Me,” “The Man I Love,” and “Something Wonderful” - was reinvented ‘60s coffeehouse style with a beat poet edge and instantly connected with the crowd.

Dressed in a vintage black dress and pearls she also talked about life’s curves, how she would be tasked to navigate difficult circumstances and still remain kind, and how dating was an eye-opening experience for a woman who was 40-something and single again after 19 years of marriage. Jazzy versions of “I Don’t Want To Know,” “Good Morning Heartache” and “Sister” (Miss Celie’s Blues from The Color Purple) were sung from a wide-open heart that let everyone in the audience feel the emotions along with her.

In “Fix It Man” she once again showcased her comic abilities, and a lively discussion with the audience about what’s right and what’s wrong in relationships provided a great segue into “Early in the Morning” and the acknowledgement of her chosen remedy…merlot. Best quotable line of the evening came from Smiths mother. When challenges were becoming overwhelming, Smith went to her because she didn’t think she could do it all: be a single mom, work seven days a week, try to be an artist… “You are not rich enough for a nervous breakdown; go to work,” her mother said in a dose of wake-up-and-get-on-with-it practical advice. We could all relate.

Baritone and bestie, Eduardo Enrikez, joined Smith for a luscious version of Sondheim’s “Move On” from Sunday in the Park with George and he and several fellow musical theatre workshop participants provided backup harmonies for her encore, “Someone Like You,” from Jekyll and Hyde. In addition to it being Sterlings anniversary, it was also Smiths birthday so the evening concluded with a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday from the audience before the celebratory evening officially came to a close.

Eduardo Enrikez, Maura Hanlon Smith and Michael Sterling

Happy Anniversary Sterlings Upstairs at the Federal and impresario Michael Sterling

I think Ms. Clooney would have been proud.  

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Up next at Sterling’s:
Monday, June 22: Broadway’s Sandy Bainum in S’Wonderful...The Songs of Ira Gershwin
Sunday, June 29 & Monday June 20: Broadways Bernard Dotson in Unexpected Songs
Reservations (818) 754-8700; Information www.msapr.net

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