JANE MONHEIT at the Premiere Dance Theatre, December 9. Tickets: $36.50. Attendance: 400. Rating: NNN
to the unknowing observer stumbling into the plush Premiere Dance Theatre on a frigid Monday night, the glowing, effervescent young babe in a spaghetti-strap black dress and shimmering red lipstick could have been any kid all dolled up in her mom's clothes.It's not just that Jane Monheit looks like she'd get carded in any bar this side of Montreal. The slip of a girl has a nervous, girlish onstage energy, fidgeting with her hair and shifting anxiously, that belies her 24 years. Even her phenomenally tight band, in identical too-big, dorky-looking business suits, came off as a baby-faced take on Charlie Brown and the gang.
But man, that girl can sing.
She started off slow, breezing easily through not-tired standards like Duke Ellington's Just Squeeze Me, featuring bassist Joe Martin's shambling arrangement and some awesome creeping basslines. Her voice fluttered over fast arpeggios like a butterfly with perfect pitch, and she hinted at a sassy sense of humour with goofy faces during a couple of bass-scraping low-end foghorn notes.
For anyone in the know, the goo-goo eyes Monheit directed towards drumming hubby Rick Montalbano during People Will Say We're In Love offered a moment of cutesy musical subtext.
But the show didn't really pick up steam till the end of the first half, when the subdued singer cut loose with a stunning, half a cappella take on Over The Rainbow. Sure, nobody does that tune justice like Judy Garland, but Monheit's got the kind of Dorothy-style innocence that makes for Emerald City enchantment. It doesn't hurt that she's also got a massive range and sculpts notes into shimmering, live organisms.
By the time the troops -- including pianist Michael Kanin and drumming hubby Montalbano -- trekked back onstage post-intermission, Monheit had hit her stride.
She shed the shy shtick and joked about her Judy G. fascination before Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. She even managed a giggle-worthy anecdote about dumb American reviewers who didn't "get" the Portuguese-language track on her new In The Sun album ("They were like, "What is she, Enya?' Um, hello? Enya sings in English!" Or Elvish).
Monheit's newfound confidence made for a captivating second half. By the time she reached Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, you knew that with a few years to get comfortable onstage, she'll blow minds more consistently.
Still, there's something refreshing about seeing sweet onstage, instead of the glut of sexy clogging the market.