Band: Christopher Guardino, Nick Ariondo, Steuart Liebig, Gary Ferguson.
European decadence, multiple costume changes, slinky female dancers and songs of a sexually ambiguous nature — the new Madonna tour? No, it’s the latest cabaret act by opera singer Stephanie Vlahos. And, between the two, Vlahos has the better voice and much better songs.
Two years ago, Vlahos’ review of Kurt Weill compositions played the Largo in Hollywood; her current show is an imaginatively staged selection of songs, most in French and by French composers.
Instead of familiar Piaf retreads, though, or transatlantic standards like “Autumn Leaves,” Vlahos has selected compositions predominantly from the past couple of decades. The writers most familiar to U.S. audiences are Jacques Brel, Charles Aznavour and Serge Gainsbourg — plus Bizet’s “La Habanera,” a number by classical composer Francis Poulenc, and Maurice Chevalier’s signature “Louise” (written in English by Americans Richard Whiting and Leo Robin).
Styles include classical, ’30s popand cabaret-style variations on rock and jazz, all well within the capabilities of pianist Christopher Guardino, accordionist Nick Ariondo, bassist Steuart Liebig and drummer Gary Ferguson.
Revue is staged in three acts, with Vlahos accompanied by dancers Veronica Apodaca and Elizabeth Stacy, in a variety of styles. There are several costume changes, and use of a wireless body microphone offers Vlahos the ability to move throughout the capacious restaurant.
Unlike many opera stars trying to expand into pop styles, mezzo-soprano Vlahos doesn’t oversing most of her material; that’s a definite plus.
For those who don’t speak French, Vlahos supplies opera-style projected supertitles, paraphrases by her father of the French lyrics, and a sheet of lengthier translations enclosed with the concert program and unreadable in Atlas’ reduced lights.
It could be argued that those who don’t understand the original lyrics are spared some pretty melodramatic stuff, and in any event wouldn’t share the French sympathy for a street accordionist who’s forced to pawn his instrument to buy a crust of bread.
Numbers like “Suzette,” where Vlahos sings of unrequited love for a woman, only add to the atmosphere of an enjoyable, unique evening.