One summer evening about 37 years ago, I was hanging out in my bedroom when I heard the harmonies of an unfamiliar singing group wafting through the house from the living room television. I was drawn to the sounds and from that moment on I’ve been a huge fan of the innovative vocal stylings of the fantastic foursome known as The Manhattan Transfer.
While the voices of the group’s founder Tim Hauser and fellow male member Alan Paul contributed in making Manhattan Transfer arguably one of the best pop/jazz vocal combos ever, it was the women singers—Janis Siegel and Laurel Massé (who was replaced in 1979 by Cheryl Bentyne after Massé suffered a serious accident)—who were the soul of the group and provided its wonderfully distinctive sound. These days, when Siegel isn’t touring with the Transfer gang, she teams with Massé and Lauren Kinhan (from the accomplished vocal group New York Voices) and the three perform as the close-harmony singing group JaLaLa (taken from their first names), basically Manhattan Transfer without the testosterone.
On Friday evening, March 30, Kinhan, Siegel and Massé (left to right in above photo) wowed a packed Joe’s Pub with a tight 75-minute program that was short on patter but long on wonderful harmonic collaboration, reminiscent of the great girl groups from the Boswell Sisters in the 1930 to The Ronettes and The Chiffons in the ‘60s. After opening with the bouncy, jazzy “It’s You” (recorded by the Boswell Sisters), JaLaLa dazzled on two songs from their 2009 CD tribute to Johnny Mercer (That Old Mercer Magic). Siegel took the lead on the sweetly bucolic “Spring, Spring, Spring” from the musical film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, while Laurel led on a funky arrangement of “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” the latter featuring terrific instrumental breaks from long-time Manhattan Transfer Musical Director Yaron Gershovsky on piano and Steve Laspina on bass. Matt Kane handled drums and stood out on Dave Brubeck’s “Unsquare Dance” when the girls weren’t rhythmically clapping to the jazzy beats and delivering classic vocalese through Larry Kirschner’s lyrics.
The ladies were terrific both individually and together on the intricate Tex Arnold arrangement of an ode-to-marriage medley called “Honeymoon Suite,” which included Kinhan nailing Nellie McKay’s “I Want to Get Married” and Frank Loesser’s “Never Will I Marry,” Siegel shining on “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Massé jazzing up Stephen Sondheim’s “(I’m Not) Getting Married Today,” from Company, and the whole group going country on Dolly Parton’s “Marry Me.”
After Kinhan took the lead on her arrangement of “Come to Baby, Do” (popularized by Doris Day in the 1940s and Nat King Cole in the ‘50s), the girls joined her for harmonies that give the song a very Manhattan Transfer sound, something they repeated at the end of the show on the bluesy and swinging up-tempo, “It’s Sand, Man.” The mid-set solos were a treat, with Siegel cooing the ballad “Marie,” which she called “the ultimate drunken love song.” Massé followed with a virtuoso acapella/classical scat performance on Bach’s “Minuet” from his “1st Suite for Unaccompanied Cello” (which is on her 2001 CD Feather and Bone), and Kinhan delivered a languid and aching interpretation of George Gershwin’s “I Loves You, Porgy.”
The surprise number of the night had to be JaLaLa’s ¾ time version of Freddy Mercury’s “Killer Queen” (from a Tex Arnold arrangement). At that point it would have been perfectly appropriate to raise a glass to this amazing girl group, take some poetic license with another Queen hit and sing “You Are The Champions.” Killer Queens, indeed.
Read more: http://cabaret.broadwayworld.com/article/BWW-Reviews-Manhattan-Transfer-Without-the-Testosterone-JaLaLa-is-Ooh-La-La-at-Joes-Pub-20120409#ixzz1rYlH96fM