Lillias White Raises the Roof at The Green Room 42

 

by Alix Cohen

 

On the one year Valentine’s Day Anniversary of The Green Room 42, Lillias White, who opened the club, comes back to roost-or, rather perch, with a selection of unbound, often scrappy love songs. Exuding energy and joie de vivre, White spreads her arms as if to take in the entire audience, her foot taps, hips shimmy. “We’re here to celebrate a day that should be every day.”

As Music Director James Sampliner plays short boogie riffs, White lights into “My Baby Just Cares For Me” (Walter Donaldson/Gus Kahn) on her own reconnaissance. She has a Satchmo growl and cool, expansive scat with its very own sound. Back-up singers Clayton Bryant,  Ramona Keller, and Virginia Woodruff offer texture but can barely be heard.

“Squeeze Me” (Fats Waller/Andy Razaf) and “Just Squeeze Me” (Duke Ellington/Lee Gaines) arrive hushed and juicy. ..When you kiss me, honey, I stay kissed…Oh papa don’t stop till I tell you when…White sashays in place; hands run suggestively up and down the microphone stand. The long fringe of her skirt provocatively swishes.

A joyful bump n’ grind, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” stomps in, proud and brazen. The vocalist shakes her own, ample stern at us “just in case you missed it the first time.” “I’m Getting ‘Long Alright” (Big Maybelle) might be called that number’s kissing kin. White candidly waxes wry about her husbands. The song is a wooeee blues. Piano pounds. She leans out to us spittin’ and howlin,’ all red hot mama.

Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart’s “My Funny Valentine” is a tender stage whisper with musing hum and tiptoeing piano. Lyrics are repeated and massaged. The tandem “Crazy” (Willie Nelson) and “Crazy He Calls Me” (Carl Sigman/Bob Russell) is palpably soulful. White makes love sound like gospel.

Among unexpected interpretations are “Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein’s “Wonderful Guy” and “The Way He Makes Me Feel” (Michel Legrand/Alan & Marilyn Bergman.) White’s a bit hip for the South Pacific number or perhaps a savvy theater-goer brings too much to it, but there’s no denying the arrangement intrigues. The song from Yentl is one of the most successful this evening. Rather than a naïve girl, it’s an experienced woman who’s excited and shocked. The number becomes R & B lavish with feeling.

“Golden” (Jill Scott) White’s audience participation song for the evening, is milked a very long time as she winds her way through the audience (without benefit of spotlight) sticking the microphone in front of people, enjoining them to sing a chorus. Most of us can see next to nothing. Catchy chorus repeats like a mantra and oh, his lady can mooooove, but… Ms. White also has some trouble remembering lyrics.

Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind” ends the show with heart and authenticity.

Photos: James Alexander

 

February 14, 2018 The Green Room 42

 

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