Perhaps inspired by last year’s ad hoc R&B celebration, A Nite at the Dew Drop Inn, DC’s great Theater Alliance company is starting its 2009 season off with another revue of yesteryear’s pop music, this time the Great American Songbook. Here’s to the Ladies: The Women of Tin Pan Alley runs to February 22.
This production is as shoestring Dew Drop Inn, featuring two female singers (Desire DuBose and Joanne Schmoll) in circa-1940 garb, a suited male singer (Carl Randolph), and two instrumentalists (bassist Mary Scott and pianist Linda Dowdell, also the show’s musical director) spinning out show tunes and pop songs from the era between the World Wars. The twist is that they’re all songs written or cowritten by women, from Ruth Lowe‘s “I’ll Never Smile Again” to Billie Holiday‘s “Fine and Mellow.” Like these two, many are familiar even today, a contradiction to the old saw (expressed between tunes via quotes from the era) that women couldn’t write great songs.
In fact, what’s most striking about the show is how well the songs hold up today—-most of them, anyway; it’s hard to pretend that 1928’s “Diga Diga Doo” is as fresh in 2009. But Ann Ronell‘s “Willow Weep for Me” is as gorgeous as ever; Jerome Kern and Irene Franklin‘s “My Husband’s First Wife” is hysterically funny; and, especially, Hoagy Carmichael and Jane Brown Thompson‘s “I Get Along Without You Very Well” remains a universal lament of loss and nostalgia that packs one hell of a punch.
And the vocalists only help the cause: Randolph and Schmoll are powerful and versatile—-and a lot of fun on pieces like “Let’s Go Eat Worms in the Garden”—-while DuBose has a knowing vulnerability and gets off an impressive scat solo on “God Bless the Child.”
It ain’t pyrotechnic, and it’s at least as much concert as theater (which is why it’s getting play on Black Plastic Bag, but it’s a glorious way to spend an evening. The show’s at H Street Playhouse at 1365 H Street NE every night this week.