Actor/singer Cortes Alexander debuted his delightful Swell Party at Sterling's Upstairs at the Federal on Monday August 13, and as I wrote then "What a uniquely fun evening of anecdote and song!" Alexander worked with Liza Minnelli in Liza at the Palace, but she met him years before when his group The Tonics had a regular gig in NYC. Alexander sings many of his own compositions and has a fine, smooth, easy-going style that pulls you in the minute he opens his mouth. On Monday December 10, Alexander came back to the Federal for the Christmas version of his show called Have a Swell Holiday. His Swell girls were also on hand Melissa Bailey and this time Julie Garnye with musical director John Boswell at piano, Norman Ludwin on bass, Terry Schoenig on percussion, and Paul Landry on guitar. The total effect of these stellar musicians made for a jazzy, swinging evening of musical mirth.
There was less banter this time about his association with Liza Minnelli and Kay Thompson, allowing the music to donimate the 80 minute set - and that it did, in spades! Song highlights included many original compositions: "Driving Song", about his first car in LA, the delightful "Greyhound Bus", lyrics by the inimitable Kay Thompson, Peter Allen's "Planes", and the beautiful "Al Otro Lado del Rio" which won an Oscar for Jorge Drexel from Motorcycle Diaries. There were also some familiar songs like "Sing Happy" by Kander and Ebb mixed gingerly with "Happy Days" and "Get Happy". He also essayed his own intriguing composition "Pilot Bird" as a loving tribute to his mother, a dress designer who, as described, had the personality of Auntie Mame and made a multitude of sacrifices to make him stand out as a boy. There were, besides "Greyhound Bus", two other priceless Kay Thompson arrangements, one of Irving Berlin's "How Deep Is the Ocean" - such a glorious upbeat rendition by Alexander, Garnye and Bailey. The other Thompson arrangement, now a classic, was her "Jingle Bells". For the holidays, Alexander also included a beautiful "Winter Wonderland" arranged by Jason Robert Brown and Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song" scrumptiously rendered by Bailey and Garnye whose belting harmony never lets down. Bailey repeated her brassy, sassy "Slowboat to China"/"Shanghai" by Frank Loesser from August and Garnye simply soared on Helen Slater's torchy "Any Day Now". This time around, at the suggestion/request of Michael Sterling, Alexander did a great Rosemary Clooney favorite "You Go to My Head", which is so well suited to his expressively heartfelt vocal delivery.
Two very short spoken sequences are worthy of note. Alexander recently played a role onstage in Dangerous Corner at Crown City Theatre and read aloud some of his glowing - and not so good - reviews. He later also read school evaluations from various teachers, which he had found in a trunk, all warning of his overzealous behavior and how it was not conducive to his success in Algebra. Funny stuff!
As I mentioned before, "Cortes Alexander is known for defying musical genres. He's a mix of pop, R& B, country, jazz - you name it, he can deliver. Plus, he's adorable to look at - at a self-proclaimed 50 - and a whole lot of fun." Let me add that his mischievous sense of humor is delicious, and his shows are sheer pleasure regardless of what he sings, as he infuses them with a deep down joy and infectious zest for life. And bravo once more to John Boswell and his quartet and to Melissa Bailey and Julie Garnye who just ROCK!