You Made Me Love You: Celebrating 100 Years of the Great American Songbook

The Metropolitan Room, New York

March 10, 2011

By Joe Lang

Jennifer Sheehan seems too young to have mastered the many subtleties of style and interpretation that she put on display in singing an eclectic program of songs celebrating the Great American Songbook at the Metropolitan Room on March 10.  As you listened to Sheehan describe how her interest in the songs of classic pop developed, and how she pursued her dream of performing them professionally, it was evident that this intelligent and talented young lady worked hard to achieve the kind of stunningly effective performance that she gave on this evening.

The show was well conceived, mixing great standards with some lesser known evergreens, and giving a nod to some of the younger composers and lyricists who are working in and extending the tradition that Sheehan was celebrating.  From the opening notes of her lovely reading of “All the Things You Are” to her perfectly sung encore, “Love Is Here to Stay,” Sheehan combined her marvelous voice, great dramatic sensibility and riveting stage presence to present a consistently entertaining and engrossing cabaret act that reflected a naturalness and warmth that few performers achieve at such an early stage in their careers.  Her musical director and pianist James Followell and bassist Jered Egan provided superb support for her.

In developing her story line Sheehan mentioned that her research led her to conclude that Sophie Tucker’s recording of “Some of These Days” was the definable break with the traditions of popular music that had previously prevailed, and that this song was arguably the first popular song to establish the stylistic tradition that would evolve into what has become known as the Great American Songbook (GAS).  Her saucy performance of this tune captured a hint of the famous Tucker brashness.  She chose another song of a similar vintage, “You Made Me Love You” to augment her exploration of this phase of the development of the GAS, this time letting us know that she could convey the emotional intensity that singing a torch song requires.

Sheehan’s performing experience began at the age of nine in her native St. Louis when she joined a company of youngsters who sang show tunes.  Her first involvement was performing in a chorus singing an extended medley of Cole Porter material, a source that she used on this occasion to create a medley of Porter tunes that led to a passionate version of “In the Still of the Night.”

Most performers experience at least one life changing moment that helps to set them on a particular career path.  For Sheehan, it was being taken, at the age of 13, by her mother to a cabaret performance by Andrea Marcovicci.  This led to her attending a workshop led by Marcovicci a few years later, and gave her the opportunity to meet and develop a friendship with the cabaret star who became a mentor for her.  The Marcovicci influence was evident when Sheehan performed “How Long Has This Been Going On,” and “Do You Miss Me,” a song that Sheehan first heard on a Marcovicci album.

A large part of her early performing experience was going to entertain residents in senior citizen complexes and nursing homes where the GAS songs were much appreciated.  Sheehan told a touching tale of performing “I’ll Be Seeing You” for an audience comprised primarily of older folks suffering from various stages of dementia.  As she began to sing the song, one of the listeners who seemed totally in another world started to hum the song, and by the time she finished it, many of those in the room were also humming along.  When she performed it for those in the Metropolitan Room, I am sure that many others had to resist the temptation that I felt to react as did the people in her story.

Sheehan performed several two-song medleys that were wonderfully well conceived.  Her pairing of two Sondheim lyrics, “Take Me to the World” with his music for Evening Primrose, and “Take the Moment” from Do I Hear a Waltz written with composer Richard Rodgers, was for me the highlight of an evening of highlights.  Another exceptional set of songs was a haunting “Two for the Road” with simply the best reading of “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” that I have ever heard.

The other three medleys gave a taste of some of the contemporary writers.  It was exciting to hear Sheehan pair two songs by Susan Werner, a songwriter deserving wider recognition.  They were “I Can’t Be New,” a song with a Dave Frishberg-like feeling, and the humorous “Movie of My Life.”  Irving Berlin’s ballad of touching sadness, “What’ll I Do?” and John Bucchino’s “Unexpressed,” a song of romantic anticipation contrasted the old Master with one of today’s better songwriters.  “Some Enchanted Evening” by Rodgers and Hammerstein was sung with “Fable” by Adam Guettel, Rodgers’ grandson.

This program was an occasion of triumph for Jennifer Sheehan.  A major new voice in cabaret has arrived, and this is wonderful news for those who love good songs sung with the kind of artistry that makes each of them shine like a precious gem.