You might have caught the incredible Lauren Kennedy most recently as The Lady of the Lake in Spamalot, or as Betty Schaefer in the National Tour of Sunset Boulevard, or fastened to Alice Ripley's pantyhose when she replaced Emily Skinner in Sideshow. On Monday night, Lauren went solo at Birdland to celebrate the release of her new CD, Here and Now. To my delight, I was there and then.
Lauren kicked off the evening by jazzing up the showstopping Here I Am from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. (The dirty, obnoxious French tourists at the table in front of mine who refused to shut the hell up until I had them escorted out and who did not tip their waitress really added to the experience, making me feel like I was actually on the French Riviera. Kudos.) The rest of the set was the track list off Here and Now, which assembles the handiwork of such celebrated composors as Adam Guettel, Georgia Stitt, Frank Wildhorn, Andrew Lippa ("Spread a Little Joy", the evening's grand finale, made me extremely happy), Dan Lipton, and Jeff Blumenkrantz, who joined Lauren onstage for a special duet even after she razzed him about the disesteemed Urban Cowboy musical, on which Jeff collaborated. The evening's star was in great voice and her banter in between songs was refreshingly candid and unrehearsed, which made the audience feel right at home. (And apparently made a few French tourists I know feel like they were at Hooters.)
Professional show queens will know that Kennedy originally starred in Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years. Although she departed the show before its New York run, Lauren has continued her love affair with Brown's music, and she does not keep it a secret. Her debut CD was a collection of his work, and on her sophomore album, she's still singing his praises. ("In This Room" and "Mr. Hoppalong Hearbreak") In addition, the composer's rich arrangements can be heard on multiple tracks. In fact, I think almost everything featured in Monday's program (except the flowers and Ms. Kennedy's hair) was arranged by Jason Robert Brown, which was an added bonus and compliment to the singer's lush vocals.
Lauren Kennedy is a major supporter and admirer of this current generation of songwriters, and I'm sure the feeling is mutual. She has an innate understanding of the material she chooses, and blends a conventional Broadway style with contemporary wit and pop influence, making her an ideal fit with these songs. And they are all great songs. You'll wanna pick up a copy of this one. If you weren't lucky enough to catch the live performance, it's the next best thing. And those loud French people thankfully are not on the recording, so it's actually better.
Randy Rainbow, Lauren Kennedy, and Adam Gentle (Photo by Mark Rupp)
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