Florida Studio Theatre's latest cabaret show honors the past without living in it.
The Swingaroos are proof that swing is alive and kicking. “Hollywood Serenade” is their latest swinging cabaret concert. Sarasota audiences will get to see it first at Florida Studio Theatre before it tours the rest of the country.
Kimberly Hawkey is the band’s sultry lead vocalist and the revue’s creator. Pianist and Music Director Assaf Gleizner cooked up the kinetic arrangements. In the band’s latest line-up: Philip Ambuel plays upright bass; Steve Morley blows the trumpet; Marty Peters sings and plays sax and clarinet; Uri Zelig drives the drums.
The tunes in their latest show offer tribute to the glory days of Tinseltown. These range from big production numbers to background scores. Many of the movies are long forgotten. But the songs are unforgettable.
The opening medley lights the fuse with a driving dance beat. The syncopated selection includes Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade,” Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the A Train” and Louis Prima’s “Sing Sing Sing.” From here, Johnny Mercer’s “Love of My Life” and “Blues in the Night” delivers a one-two punch. Gene Krupa’s “Drum Boogie” sets the stage on fire. George and Ira Gershwin’s “Fascinating Rhythm” lives up to its name. And Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” never gets old.
The second act kicks off with Roger Edens’ “The Joint is Really Jumpin’ at Carnegie Hall” (co-written with Ralph Blaine and Hugh Martin). Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh’s “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” grooves with a classic, sultry, slow grind (a homage to Lena Horne’s delivery). The notable Harold Arlen shines through “Stormy Weather” (co-written with Harold Arlen), and “Over the Rainbow” (co-written with Yip Harburg for “Pinocchio”). That terrifying cartoon gets another tune: Leigh Harline and Ned Washington’s “When You Wish Upon a Star.” It’s as hopeful and wistful as ever.
And, speaking of celestial bodies, the band’s level of talent is nothing less than stellar. Let’s start with the lead vocalist …
Without missing a beat, Hawkey keeps up a spiel, threading the songs with their Hollywood history. On top of that, she plays banjo; she plays piano; she sings, too — and how. One minute, she channels Lena Horne, the next minute she’s doing Carmen Miranda. Hawkey is nothing but versatile. But her bandmates keep up with her.
Along with being a great reedman, Peters does a mean Cab Calloway imitation. Zelig hits the skins with blistering dexterity on “Drum Boogie.” Pianist Gleizner deftly shifts musical gears from ballads to blues to boogie-woogie. Morley blows the horn like a hurricane on Ralph Freed and George Stoll’s “The Young Man with a Horn.” Cellist Ambuel’s fingers fly on “Fascinating Rhythm.”
It adds up to a fascinating concert. You can enjoy it for a jolt of nostalgia. Or just enjoy it for what it is.
Hawkey and friends honor the past, but they’re not living in the past. The Swingaroos’ brand of swing draws on the changes and rhythms of rock. So be it. A band of robots could perfectly replicate the old, dead swing performers. But the Swingaroos aren’t robots. They’re flesh and blood, and alive and well. Their 21st-century swing is, too.