Jane Monheit at UCLA

On Friday (12/3), Jane Monheit winked, wiggled and used her considerable vocal talents to dazzle in a solid but short-feeling show.

In Jane Monheit’s fourth studio effort, “Taking A Chance On Love,” she mines the vocal standards library as she has in the past, but this time with an eye toward songs with a theatrical history. On stage, she quite effectively translates them into emotional monologues, as if the audience were flipping channels through key scenes across various productions.

Monheit’s obvious comfort with the stage, combined with her vamping, flirtatious stage persona–more seductive than brassy, think Shania Twain more than Bette Midler–provides an optimal venue to ply some theatrical stagecraft, and she applies herself without hesitation.

The result is a series of polished and playful performances that produced a multitude of “could hear a pin drop” moments.

Standouts were a vocal and piano reading of “Bill” from the musical Show Boat that soared, and a hopping “I Won’t Dance,” performed on CD with fellow young “it” jazzer Michael Buble. Monheit also spiced up her reading of “More Than You Know,” the Rosemary Clooney nugget that appears as a slow-burn ballad on 2000’s “Never Never Land.” Here it was a swinging, sassy take that lost none of the emotion and gave the band a groove to hook into.

Monheit’s latest CD suffers against the rest of her catalog from a tendency to feel too careful, too arranged. Earlier works found her plumbing deep into favorite composer catalogs and emerging with material and production ideas that seemed to push her harder.

Against that background, “Taking A Chance On Love” seems like low-hanging fruit, and this reviewer was disappointed in that regard on early listens. But on stage, that simple assessment melts into a realization that Monheit has come at the album with a strategy of gathering material that she can do justice to in the studio and then re-invent and perform the hell out of on stage.

That said, the hour-plus set (which was postponed from an earlier September date) seemed to end rather abruptly, as if a big number was left out near the end. But that’s a minor niggle based on years of this reviewer attending big rock shows staged for the big ending.

Yet it probably equally telegraphs a new set of concert expectations based on Monheit’s growth as an expressive and dynamic live performer. She’s got the big ending in her. It’ll be interesting to see how she and her team direct her path from here. With television-ready good looks and a smoldering stage charisma, she’s probably one VH1 video away from crashing the Diana Krall-Norah Jones sultry crooner platinum sales party.

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