My Ship: Songs from 1941
Laurie Beechman Theatre, NYC, October 9, 2017
Reviewed by Marilyn Lester for Cabaret Scenes
In keeping with Cape Cod-born Dawn Derow’s somewhat nautical theme, My Ship: Songs from 1941 is a perfect storm of entertainment. The show is a wonderfully crafted work—more like a solo theatrical outing than cabaret, including sweet bits of business. The piece was conceived and developed by Derow with her music director, the late Barry Levitt, and director Jeff Harnar, whose smart staging works very effectively to keep the pace lively. It turns out a lot happened in 1941 besides this country’s entry into World War II. Many great Songbook standards debuted then—a superb body of work for a singe year. What better way to lead off a stunning show than with a video of the era’s images, and an equally stunning work, Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the A Train,” the iconic theme song of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. From there, Derow sailed through a range of musical emotions, from an emotive “Skylark” (Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer) to fun material, such as “The Hut Sut Song” (“A Swedish Serenade”) (Leo V. Killion/Ted McMichael/Jack Owens), and “When I See an Elephant Fly” (Oliver Wallace/Ned Washington).
Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin were well served by a sensitive rendition of the eponymous “My Ship” (with bowing by bassist Tom Hubbard absolutely sublime), and a spirited, droll take on “The Saga of Jenny.” Derow’s voice is crystalline, sure and confident. Her vocal control and phrasing abet her presentation. Applied acting skills further enhance her work, especially in a pair of Ellingtons: “Just Squeeze Me (But Please Don’t Tease Me)” (lyrics by Lee Gaines) and the doleful “I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good)” (lyrics by Paul Francis Webster), as well as an imaginative “Blues in the Night” (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer). There was also a touch of nostalgia with Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” with audience participation. Derow pulled out all the stops on “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover” (Walter Kent/Nat Burton) by revealing her breathtaking, prodigious operatic training.
In addition to ace bassist Hubbard, drums were expertly played by Daniel Glass. Music director and pianist was Ian Herman, playing Barry Levitt’s arrangements. Levitt had passed away the day that My Ship was originally scheduled to debut. That Derow soldiered on with the show (dedicated “forever to the memory of Barry Levitt”) is in and of itself a praiseworthy accomplishment.