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Cabaret Scenes CD Review: Charlo Crossley & Ava Nicole Frances - Mutual Admiration Live

Reviewed by Elliot Zwiebach for Cabaret Scenes

It’s always exciting to hear an experienced singer performing at her peak, and it’s just as exciting to hear a young singer in top form finding her place in the world.  This CD offers both.

Recorded live last August at Feinstein’s at Vitello’s in Studio City, CA, it features the voice of experience in Charlo Crossley, an engaging singer in the midst of a decades-long career, and the voice of aspiration in Ava Nicole Frances, a then 15-year-old powerful singer on the threshold of a potentially promising career.

Singing alone and together, they are an intoxicating pair with individual virtues that blend and contrast to make for interesting listening—Crossley with warmth and solid jazz chops, and Frances with the bubbly enthusiasm of youth.

The recording opens with a duet on the song that gave the show and the subsequent CD its name: “Mutual Admiration Society” (Matt Dubley/Harold Carr). It establishes the relaxed, friendly rapport between the two women.  Then, after separate sets, they merge their individual talents again—tearing the roof off the club with the Garland-Streisand mash-up of “Happy Days Are Here Again” (Jack Yellin/Milton Ager) and “Get Happy” (Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler), and providing a perfect blendship on the always welcome “You’re Just in Love” (Irving Berlin).

Separately Frances shows off her strong voice with a control and confidence beyond her years in a series of aspirational songs. She demonstrates her vocal range on a sweet, rangy “Everyday” (Tom Kitt), followed by a solid, earnest take on “Woman” (Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schoenberg, with English lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and John Dempsey, from The Pirate Queen), a dynamic mash-up combining a provocative “Beautiful” (Laurence O’Keefe/Kevin Murphy, from Heathers) with a tender, breathy “What’s Wrong with Me?” (Jeff Richmond/Neil Benjamin, from Mean Girls), and a sweet version of Linda Perry’s “Beautiful.”

Frances also offers a youthfully joyous “I Can Hear the Bells” (Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman, from Hairspray) and demonstrates a full-throated depth in a combination of “Over the Rainbow” (Arlen/Yip Harburg) with its counterpart from The Wiz, “Home.”

During her set Crossley demonstrates ease in handling several standards, including a nicely phrased “Lady Be Good” (George and Ira Gershwin), a swinging version of  “Green Dolphin Street” (Bronislaw Kaper/Ned Washington), and a smooth, easy-going take on the Gershwins’ “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”

She also offers a heartfelt “To Sir with Love” (Don Black/Mark London), a reflective medley of “Drinking Again” (Johnny Mercer/Doris Tauber) and “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” (Arlen/Mercer), and a rousing, optimistic combo of “Sunny Side of the Street” (Jimmy McHugh/Dorothy Fields) and “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries” (Ray Henderson/Lew Brown).

The singers are ably backed by music director Michael Collum on piano, Tom Bowe on drums, and the single-named Kirsch on bass.

Since both women have been in productions of Hairspray—Crossley on Broadway and the national tour, Frances in middle school—they join together on two songs from the show: “Good Morning, Baltimore,” with Frances on lead and Crossley supplying harmony, and “I Know Where I’ve Been,” with Crossley offering a stirring vocal with nice backup support from Frances. 

They close the show and the CD’s 75 minutes with a soft, quiet version of Berlin’s “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” an apt song for very different singers finding mutual success from two different perspectives.


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