BWW Reviews: Sterling's Welcomes Cortes Alexander and Swell Party
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by Don Grigware
Actor/singer Cortes Alexander debuted his delightful Swell Party at Sterling's Upstairs at the Federal on Monday August 13. 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.
His story about how she used to frequent his appearances and how she finally introduced herself to him and asked for his phone number, and then out of the blue, called him early the next morning, showing up at his doorstep minutes later in a stretch limo... is a scream. Liza and Cortes did a European tour together, with Liza responsible for establishing The Cortes Alexander Trio. Obviously, they have been close friends for years. One other story that was most amusing was the one about Kay Thompson, Liza's godmother. Thompson had been musical director at MGM and was known for her wildly eccentric yeT Loving behavior. When Liza introduced them, Kay sang her hellos, instantly composing a ditty about his name and character. Alexander is up close, warm and personal with his audience, and has an indescribably appealing charisma. You just want to wrap him up and take him home with you! He has a ball performing, and so did we.
Song highlights of the 90 minute set included many original compositions: "Love Being Here", which cleverly mentions just about every city in the world. Alexander reprised this at the finale substituting every place in California, "Driving Song", about his first car in LA, a touching "Parade" about a meeting with his half-brother, the delightful "Greyhound Bus", lyrics by the inimitable Kay Thompson, Peter Allen's "Planes", the beautiful "Al Otro Lado" from Motorcycle Diaries, and his fluffy, summertime tune "It's All Right". There were also some familiar songs like the crazy opener "Happy Days" mixed with "Get Happy", "My Buddy", lovingly dedicated to his mother, a dress designer who, as described, had the personality of Auntie Mame, Kay Thompson's incredibly distinct arrangement of Irving Berlin's "How Deep Is the Ocean" - I never heard it sung like this before, but loved it, his affecting original song "Marguerite" and his encore "Sunshine". His two Swell Girls Melissa Bailey and Jennifer Rappo both have dynamite voices and sang background throughout. Each had a splendid turn at the mic, Bailey with "Slowboat to China"/"Shanghai" and Rappo with Helen Slater's torchy "Any Day Now". There were four terrific musicians with musical director Ross Kalling, calling the shots at the piano.
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. In fact, we had such a good time, as did the rest of the SRO crowd, the set flew by. Hopefully, his first visit to Sterling's will not be his last!
Get his CD Swell: http://www.cortesalexander.com/