Even though Pink Martini's Lucas Theatre show opened with something from left field - Ravel's erotic classic "Bolero" - it wasn't until the fourth song in that the "Little Orchestra of Good Cheer" from Oregon struck a pitch-perfect balance between the beautiful and the bizarre.
Pianist, arranger and bandleader Thomas Lauderdale introduced "Song of the Black Lizard" as the theme from a little-known 1968 Japanese horror film. Set against a bed of gypsy violin, muted trumpet and Lauderdale's dramatic, Liberace-plays-Chopin flourishes on the ivories, vocalist China Forbes started with a high-end series of spooky wails, then sang the verses (in Japanese) as if she were pleading with a wayward lover to return.
You had absolutely no idea what she was singing, but it was haunting and cool, and incredibly evocative.
And so it was for the duration of Thursday's sold-out, two-hour concert. Whether the lyrics were in Japanese, French, Spanish, Italian or English, Forbes proved a dynamic interpreter, and a galvanizing performer, out in front of a super-fine and nearly perfect nine-piece band.
It was a hell of a lot of fun. It would have been even better with a dance floor and a cocktail bar.
The music ranged from mambos to cha-chas, from breezy Euro-pop ballads to a singalong folk song from Turkey. The band's own compositions, including "And Then You're Gone" and "Hey Eugene," utilize elements of Brazilian 1960s pop, swing jazz, Afro-Cuban rhythms and even rock ‘n' roll. Their "Hang On Little Tomato" is all done up like early Tin Pan Alley.
Sure, there was a cheese factor there. Some of the extended instrumentals sounded like what used to be quaintly known as "Exotica" (i.e. makeout music from some episode of Mad Men). And on occasion it seemed as if the trumpet player with the Fabio hair was playing the incidental score from Man of La Mancha.
But when Forbes, in an elegant red evening gown, and second vocalist Timothy Nishimoto (bald as a cueball and wearing a sharp, charcoal-grey business suit) sang together, it was more charming than kitschy.
Among their energetic retro duets: The medley of "Get Happy" and "Happy Days Are Here Again" famously first performed by Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand on TV's Judy Garland Show in 1963.
For those two hours, it was a Pink Martini world.
Lauderdale looks like the love child of Elton John and Paul Williams, and is at least half a foot shorter than Forbes. When he left his piano to play a game of touchy-feely with her during the silly Italian song "Tuca Tuca," for that moment there was nothing finer, or funnier, in the whole world.
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