In her classy debut, Stephanie Pope puts a refreshing new spin on antique tunes from the Roaring ’20s and the Great Depression. The songs, several of which grace her new Jerome CD, “Now’s the Time to Fall in Love,” may be a tad archaic, but the leggy Broadway dancer brings them up to date with fresh, imaginative savvy.
The 1931 title tune declares that “potatoes and tomatoes are cheaper,” but her own updated lyrics suggest that cell phones, beepers and laptops are cheaper. But don’t expect Pope to bounce around the stage clapping hands together like Eddie Cantor, who was closely associated with the tune. In its new setting, the song becomes a playful and ardent invitation for romance.
The former Bob Fosse protegee and chorine who appeared on Broadway in “Big Deal” and starred in a Vegas production of “Chicago” is a sinewy beauty who displays a sweet, warm, disciplined voice and breezy unforced energy. Mindful of both Diahann Carroll and Lena Horne when they were hitting the Manhattan club circuit in the late ’50s, her polished perf reveals clean intonation and phrasing. The linking patter was cheerfully minimal, and the chanteuse boasts an infectious warming smile.
It would be difficult to dance the Charleston to the singer’s take on “Button Up Your Overcoat.” Pope’s breathless warning to her man to avoid meats and sweets, and to “keep away from bootleg hooch, ” becomes a plaintive love letter. All the oldies got a make-over, from a playful “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” set to a racing tempo, to a sultry “Ain’t She Sweet” and a Latin-flavored “Pick Yourself Up.”
In her homage to black divas who “paved the way,” Pope salutes Dorothy Dandridge, Eartha Kitt, Paula Kelly and Josephine Baker. “Don’t Touch Me Tomatoes” serves the latter with its tongue-in-cheek double entendres, and Pope invests it with a sweet, eye-rolling comic touch.
The Daryl Kojak Quartet adds a soaring big band sound and is musically blessed with the presence of altoist Sue Terry, a former reed anchor of the all-gal Diva band.