Saturday, July 12, 2008

You Ought to be in Pictures: Movie Tunes, Act 1

It’s always nice to discover a new cabaret artist. This one had been under my nose all along. Rita Ellis Hammer is a fellow member of the Episcopal Actors’ Guild and the Dutch Treat Club. It was at a Guild party in June that she told me about this CD and kindly sent me a copy.

Listening to it conjures up images of New York nightlife of an earlier era, a sophisticated time of dark, candlelit clubs filled with couples in evening clothes smoking cigarettes, some theatrically using cigarette holders. Think Bette Davis in “All About Eve.”

Rita’s interpretation of songs is that of the worldly woman. Starting with “The Lady is a Tramp,” she gleefully and wickedly belts out 14 classics, giving them just the interpretation I’m sure their creators would love. She makes them gutsy and bluesy, and her “Windmills of Your Mind” is absolutely haunting.

She chose to sing tunes from the movies because they, along with the movies that featured them, were so important to her as a little girl growing up in Brooklyn after World War II. “They were the brilliant songs that let people escape from their lives for a little while,” she writes in her liner notes. “I fantasized that I was being crooned to by Bing, that I was singing with Judy, that Fred was whirling me lightly around the dance floor in his white tie and tails.”

The CD and cabaret appearances mark Rita’s return to show business. She began performing on the radio as a child, billed as Baby Rita. She then went on to a career as an actress in the Golden Age of television before taking many years off to raise her daughter, Elissa.

And now she’s back! Her live performances have drawn raves. Eric Myers of Time Out New York called her the cabaret find of the season and The Free Press picked up on her time-gone-by quality, saying: “Rita Hammer is a classy lady with a big voice. . . you’ll swear you’re listening to a blues shouter in the Delta, a chanteuse in some 1930s nightclub, or a USO dame entertaining the troops from a bandstand.”

While waiting for her next show you can enjoy this spunky singer through her CD. It's available on CD Baby or by calling (212) 724-3706 to order.

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