By Tom Alvarez, Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner
December 15, 2012
There was no better way to experience the feel of the holidays in Indianapolis than to sit in the elegant Crystal Terrace Room of the Columbia Club while taking in the spectacular view of the lighted Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument and buildings on the Circle and watching a performance of “Martinis & Mistletoe,” featuring Shannon Forsell, Brenda Williams and the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Septet with guest Laney Wilson. The show, which opened Thursday, Dec. 13, continues through Dec. 15 at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club in downtown Indianapolis.
Forsell, who is also managing and artistic director of the Cabaret, and Williams are two of the city’s most well-known entertainers and are beloved by their large fan bases.
The Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra has performed nationally and internationally. It was represented by a septet consisting of Brent Wallarab on trombone, Mark Buselli on trumpet, Mike Stricklin on alto sax, Ned Boyd on tenor sax, Amy Wallarab on piano, Jack Helsey on bass, and Mitch Shiner on drums.
Wilson, an Indianapolis resident, began performing four years ago after becoming a finalist in Michael Feinstein’s Great American Songbook Competition.
Singing holiday classics and novelty songs, arranged by Buselli-Wallarab, during a program heavy on comedy, Forsell and Williams have a long history performing together on the former American Cabaret Theatre stage and beyond. Demonstrating a natural ease onstage and camaraderie between themselves, they joked with one another and with the audience, displaying showmanship that was thoroughly enhanced by the rich, full sound of the outstanding musicians of the septet.
Setting the seasonal tone for the evening, the septet opened Act 1 with “Sleigh Ride,” followed by “Winter Weather Medley,” which Forsell and Williams started singing from the rear of the room as they made their way to the stage. They followed with a swinging “Cool Yule.”
The two singers showed contrast in their differing styles and vocal qualities when Forsell, whose soprano voice is blessed with a purity of tone, sang a languid “Snowfall,” and Williams, in a husky voice, made “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” a suitable vehicle for expressing her sultry stage persona.
Good-looking Wilson bore a resemblance to Michael Bublé in carriage and vocal delivery, but showed promise for developing his own unique style as he conveyed romance while crooning “The Christmas Waltz” in a voice that was pleasantly appealing.
After calling the three of them “Laney and the Cougars,” Forsell was joined by the 23-year-old Laney and Williams for “Jingle Bells” prior to intermission.
Act 2 began with the septet playing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” which was distinguished by superb solos by trombonist Brent Wallarab and bass player Jack Helsey.
Forsell, whose talents include a penchant for comedy, delighted the audience when she performed “The Man With the Bag,” during which she meandered throughout the house to tease some men whose laps she sat on — as well as a few women — as she handed them joke gifts she carried in a basket.
Williams showed her mastery of the double entendre while sexily singing “Be My Santa Claus,” as she snuggled with a huge blow-up Santa Claus figure.
Wilson, who sang “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” Forsell, who rendered “When You Wish Upon a Star” from the 1940 Disney film Pinnochio, and Williams, singing a compelling version of Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas,” all individually connected deeply with the audience as they expressed the true meaning and spirit of the holiday through their solos.
The show concluded with Forsell, Williams and Wilson backed by the septet, singing “Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas,” followed by an encore in which they offered a toast to the audience and a sing along of “Auld Lang Syne.”
For tickets and information about 2012-2013 season performances at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club, call (317) 275-1169 or visit www.thecabaret.org.
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