Michelle Johnson's production of Strictly Taboo dazzled with seven notable female vocalists including Michelle, Mary O, Kellie Wright, Naomi Mauro, Avana Christie, Elyse Branch, and Genevieve Dew.
Along with a top notch 17 piece orchestra led by musical director Joe Escriba, this was to pen Michelle Johnson's term, "a salicious musical revue about the divas of jazz."
|Elyse, Avana, Kellie, Michelle, Mary, Genevieve and Naomi|
As the ladies took the stage for their opening number Lady is a Tramp, what stood out most to me were the elegant outfits. I loved the gowns, the diamonds, the elbow length gloves and long strings of pearls. These divas celebrating other divas were dressed to the nines and there was not a slightly falling hem or missing sequin to be seen. In addition, the expertly coordinated costume changes throughout the show made this more than a performance, but a beautifully crafted revue.
Some highlights of the night were Michelle Johnson as Ella Fitzgerald, Avana Christie as Bessie Smith, Naomi Mauro as Anita O'Day, Genevieve Dew as Billie Holiday, Kellie Wright as Rosemary Clooney, Mary O as Nancy Wilson and Elyse Branch as Nina Simone.
The ladies took turns and sometimes sang together for tunes such as Witchcraft, Guess Who I Saw Today, Mambo Italiano, A Little Sugar in my Bowl, Someone to Watch Over Me, Bless the Child, Send In The Clowns, and Fever.
Adding to the show were stories interwoven between the songs about the colorful and sometimes scandalous lives of the divas of jazz being paid tribute to, which I appreciated because I didn't know a lot about them so it made their songs and music more meaningful to me. Although I am willing to bet the lives of the singers on stage that night would have made just as interesting stories! Perhaps next time we will hear more about them.
Another surprise were the dancers, who intermittently jumped into a couple of numbers filling the stage with movement and energy....(especially tap dancers Victoria and Victoria).
Michelle Johnson performed a few solo numbers that night, all had different tones, sound and feel. Michelle is one of the most diverse performers we have here in Las Vegas. Although she is often referred to as the First Lady of Jazz, I tend to think that term confines her to one genre in some people's minds. She is so much more.
The night before her show I caught Michelle as part an event called "The Set List" at House of Blues. Her take on the Rolling Stones' classic Wild Horses was poignant and powerful! I've been hearing a lot about Michelle lately. She sang the national anthem at a Las Vegas 51's game, then the other day at an NBA event, a few days after this show she performed at a corporate event for Microsoft. All of that was in just a two week span! Her next performance will be September 15th for her show Tapestry Unraveled a Tribute to Carole King, (also at Cabaret Jazz).
Michelle recently posted an inspiring public message on FB and since it was public I decided to share it here... "I especially want to encourage performers to focus on their own journeys. You have a unique voice that is all yours. Run your own race and you will get to the finish line. I promise you that. Just run your own race! That is what has made all of the difference for me in the past two years. I stopped comparing myself to everyone else and I stopped trying to be someone I wasn't. As soon as you acknowledge who you are, and embrace and celebrate it, things just start happening for you. Please take that leap and add single mindedness and discipline, and watch your life soar. No one can play you better than you. Make your move and leave a mark. You matter"....Beautiful words from a talented artist who we here in Las Vegas are fortunate to call a local.
This particular show was my husband and my wedding anniversary and was a perfect way to spend it. Cabaret Jazz is a special separate theater venue that is part of The Smith Center for the Performing Arts complex and is intimate at 240 seats, but large enough for a show with an orchestra and dancers. They serve drinks and some food including bento boxes with cheese, fruit, meat and other varieties. It's a great place for a date night, or when you have friends in town and want to show them someplace local and off of the strip.
Photos courtesy of Ed Foster