Los Angeles Cabaret Review: CORTÉS ALEXANDER: Have a SWELL Holiday (Sterling’s Upstairs at the Federal)

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by Tony Frankel on December 15, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles

ALEXANDER THE GREAT…CHARMER, THAT IS

When I first heard Cortés Alexander sing in 1992, he wasn’t alone. He was part of a group named The Tonics, and they performed a jazzy rendition of “Good Thing Going” for a PBS special, Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall (which was Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of Cortés Alexander’s cabaret Have a SWELL Holiday at Sterling’s Upstairs at the Federalaccompanied by a then-unknown Jason Robert Brown of Parade fame). The next time I heard him sing was 20 years later. Last Monday, Alexander appeared at Sterling’s nifty supper club in his cabaret act, Have a SWELL Holiday (I believe the “swell” is in caps because that is the name of his latest CD). Backed up by “The Swell Girls,” Melissa Bailey and Julie Garnye, the boyish, self-assured, unassuming, and charming Alexander showed off his skills as an arranger, piano player, and close-harmony singer in a grab-bag lounge act of original compositions, standards, and Christmas fare.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of Cortés Alexander’s cabaret Have a SWELL Holiday at Sterling’s Upstairs at the FederalWith all of the hard work and love put into the show, this evening of song and anecdotes proved that Alexander is best when singing with others, not alone. Both Bailey and Garnye are powerhouse singers who were given the chance to shine in their own solos by the generous Alexander, but instead of asking them to be his backup, it should have been the other way around. I loved how he celebrated the great Kay Thompson with her arrangements of “Jingle Bells,” “Love on a Greyhound Bus,” and “How Deep is the Ocean.” His own arrangements of tight-knit harmonies, performed with the girls, were equally electrifying, especially “The Christmas Song.” But as a solo artist he came off as harmlessly smooth, and in no way can he be called a headliner. And even though he was backed up by dynamite musicians – musical director John Boswell at piano, Norman Ludwin on bass, Terry Schoenig on percussion, and Paul Landry on guitar – all the jazzy, swingy, and charismatic goings on could not hide the fact that appeal and a lot of microphone reverb was not enough to make him stand out. Alexander could no doubt charm the pants off of you, but he could be pitchy and flat as well.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of Cortés Alexander’s cabaret Have a SWELL Holiday at Sterling’s Upstairs at the FederalPlus, he tells tales of hanging out with Hal Prince and Stephen Sondheim, and that he performed as one of Liza’s boys in Liza at the Palace on Broadway, but he is too self-effacing to be a raconteur. He did delight when reading off good and bad reviews of his latest performance as a singing ghost in Dangerous Corner. And when he related the comments from past report cards, it was exceptionally telling that one teacher notated that Alexander may have been a weak student, but he was nonetheless filled with “originality, humor, charm, and fun.” Except for the missing “originality,” the other characteristics certainly made his audience feel comfortable, as if he were performing for us in a living room at some dinner party. His adoring audience made evident that the toothsome and beguiling showman pleased them to no end, but my report card would say, “Sings well with others, creates some nifty arrangements, but should not embark on a solo career.”

photos by Eric Schneider

Cortés Alexander: Have a SWELL Holiday
played Sterling’s Upstairs at the Federal in North Hollywood on December 10, 2012
to hear samples from his latest CD, visit http://www.cortesalexander.com/

for info on upcoming shows at the Federal, visit Sterling’s

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