It was retro night with a twist at Sterling's Upstairs at the Federal on Monday October 15 as The Coco & Ruby Variety Hour took center stage with multi-talented Courtney Freed (Coco, below) and Rebecca Johnson (Ruby, left). Adorned in period black cocktail dresses imprinted with cherries, a rose in their shiny red hair and with that fresh scrubbed look not seen since the 40s/50s, the two gals demanded attention like a hurricane ripping though town. Playing two girls from Newark looking for love in Hollywood, the show is a pleasant mix of old and new. There's a special drink on the menu called The Ginger Muldoon, also one of their original tunes penned by Freed, with vodka or gin and ginger beer mixed with muddled basil and a squeeze of lime. Muddled is the perfect word to describe the mismatch of 40s and contemp clothes, songs and silly, dreamy-eyed demeanor of the two women, who, as if dropped off in Hollywood from a time machine, do not know what to make of it all. But the confusion makes for a delightfully entertaining evening with more than a few chuckles to brighten the horizon. Backed by a lively three piece band: Brian Boyce on drums, Jordan Bennett on bass and musical director Matthew Schwartz on piano, the gals are divine. The show may have a screwball tone but not their glorious voices that put the h in harmonize. Freed as Coco is the poker-faced Ethel Mertz of the duo and Johnson the naive, impressionable, wildly exuberant Lucy. Their comic timing is as sparkling as their singing.
Being a variety hour, there were several guest star acts including two very funny vaudevillian-like comedians Hensley and Montiel whose "Zucchini Song" was a resoundingly big hit. A double treat! There was also Tony Rodriguez a terrific comic in a gay mode whose "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" had the two gals innocently singing the praises of "a boy and his father". An old style crooner a la Bing Crosby Johnny Holiday, that both simply swooned over, did a cool rendition of "Lover Come Back to Me".
Standards like "You're Nobody Til Somebody Loves You" were dynamically mixed with "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" or "Someone to Watch Over Me" with Adele's "Someone Like You". Freed's shining moment was with her own composition "Movie Boy" where she sings to a portrait, a la Garland to Gable. Johnson's is definitely Melissa Etheridge's "Come to My Window" where she tells a soppy story of lost love that is funny, touching and shows off her alluring style. Also on tap were a lovely "You Belong to Me", Adryan Russ' great lyrics on the upbeat "Boogie with My Baby", "A, You're Adorable" and "Dream a Little Dream of Me".
This is a super fun walk down memory lane blended with an unforgettable take on contemp pop featuring two memorable talents, Rebecca Johnson and Courtney Freed. Watch for The Coco & Ruby Variety Hour as it hits the road and makes its way to a venue near you!
photos by Don Grigware
musicians Jordan Bennett, Matthew Schwartz and Brian Boyd
Tony Rodriguez and Johnny Holiday
Hensley (right) and Montiel (left)
Ruby and Coco