“Well, I’ve been told it’s husky,” Yanna Avis says, settling into her persimmon wraparound sofa, the centerpiece of the drawing room of her apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side that overlooks Central Park. “I don’t know how I feel about it, but I guess it’s a good thing?” Avis’ voice is husky. It’s textured and smoky, harkening back to the quality of lounge singers of yore who sucked down cigarettes between sets.
“I love the music of the Thirties and Forties, the glamour of it,” she says. “I try to get that glamour into my act.”
Avis has been doing cabaret since 1992, when she made her debut at Eighty-Eight’s in Greenwich Village, and she’s kept things local since then. “I’ve covered almost every spot in New York, from downtown to all the way uptown,” she says. “And now I’ll be performing on the next block.”
Known for her chic and sultry cabaret performances and her “smoky” voice, her sophistication comes from a worldly life. She sings in French, English, Spanish, Italian and German and has toured widely, including performances at Maxim’s in Paris, the Spoleto Festival in Italy, The Jermyn Street Theatre in London, as well as in New York’s Feinstein’s at the Regency, The Metropolitan Room, The Supper Club’s King Kong Room and The Firebird among other venues.
“In my line of work I come across many women who enchant me with what they look like, where they’ve come from and the stories they can tell. What is sometimes rare and exciting, however, is wondering, “Where is she going? What will she achieve? What makes her shine?”
I had the pleasure many years ago of meeting cabaret singer Yanna Avis and although there have been many opportunities to lose communication, I just couldn’t let her go. She is strikingly beautiful, well-traveled and a most gracious hostess. So why would a woman with all of this continue to work so hard on her cabaret career? What drives this woman to open new doors and invite people into her world with a song and a moment? …”
By Richmond Shepard, Performing Arts Insider | June 14, 2011
YANNA AVIS is a beautiful woman with a pleasant voice and loads of appeal in her performance of songs in French and English (with a touch of German). She exudes a lovely sensuality, and is more of an entertainer than a singer. Sure, she stays on key, but it’s HER that’s important rather than the voice. Some of the performance is in shprichtzimmer, and it works in the context of her musical vocabulary. This show at The Metropolitan Room on W. 34th St. seems to try to create the intimacy of a dimly-lighted room, but I wanted to see more of her— I wanted lighting that reveals and enhances rather than obscures her. Her acting is top-notch, and it infuses her songs, as do her warmth and charm in this very enjoyable trip to the continent.
An accordion begins. Yanna Avis—slim, blonde, sultry—enters in a clinging black dress. Parisian by birth, actress by training and career, she reinvented herself several years ago as a cabaret singer, and in that role made her Metropolitan Room debut in June, in a multilingual program of French, German and American songs.
Familiar numbers included a cheery “C’est si bon,” the lament “Mon homme” (sung in French, known in English as the Fanny Brice hit, “My Man”) and a pairing of Cole Porter’s “You Don’t Know Paree” paired with French composer/singer Léo Ferré’s peppy “Paris Canaille.” Another combination, “My Old Flame” and “I Remember You,” both sung in English, formed a lovely, straightforward change of pace, and her “Charleston” (English lyrics by Fred Ebb), with Avis sporting a top hat, was a delight. However, it was her attempt at other American numbers that missed the mark. With “Bye Bye Blackbird” and the too-cute “I Refuse to Rock and Roll” (the latter by Sammy Cahn and Nicholas Brodsky), she may have wanted to appeal to “local taste,” but, instead, may simply have underestimated the international sophistication of the audience who came to see her.
At moments, pseudo-sexy mannerisms took center stage, as if she were playing at the role of chanteuse. Not necessary: she has international flair, and can relax and rely on it. Excellent musical direction and piano accompaniment were contributed by David Shenton, with fine backup by David Finck on bass and Patrick Farrell on accordion.
Ah, Paree! As the statuesque French chanteuse Yanna Avis sang Cole Porter’s great ode to the City of Light, “You Don’t Know Paree,” on a recent evening, a composite view of the city as imagined by Balzac, Zola and of course, Porter himself, flickered in my imagination. “Until you’ve lived a lot, and loved a lot, and lost a lot, you don’t know Paree,” go lyrics that Ms. Avis, a soigné international beauty, sang with a wry understanding.
Both Ms. Avis and her show at the Metropolitan Room are throwbacks to a cabaret style that flourished in New York in the 1950s and early ’60s in which traditional glamour and high style were the thing. Nothing must disturb the playfully naughty Folies Bergère spirits in which bittersweet moments are thrown in for contrast. The songs concentrate on appearances and the competitive erotic games indulged in by courtiers in a world of unbounded leisure; the only enemy is boredom.
Yanna Avis has been called a cross between Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich and that is certainly a flattering comparison. On the contemporary scene she might remind one of “Uma” or “Ute,” as in Thurman or Lemper, given the equally alluring and mysterious quality they share with the international chanteuse. On stage at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency for the second time this fall, in a magnificent skintight black pants suit with a soft white, flouncy collar and cuffs, she definitely enhanced the beauty and elegance of the room
Sultry and sexy, singing a multi-lingual repertoire that has become her forte, she had the strong support of some very fine sidemen: on accordion Patrick Farrell, bass David Finck and violin/viola Eddie Malave. Her Musical Director, David Shenton, and director, Daniel Isengart, musically and artistically shaped a program that enabled her to work her unique and appealing magic to the delight of her savvy, sophisticated audience.
To be sure, very few “chantoosies” in fishnet stockings covering legs that go on forever can stretch out and caress the top of a Steinway and make it look so natural and effortless. One can sense that Ms. Avis is as comfortable there as she is at a café in Paris or dining at the Ritz! All the songs on her song list, whether in French, Italian, Spanish or German, serve to heighten the “mystique!”
Negotiating off the stage and in and around tightly cramped chairs, however, proved to be a challenge that she might not have anticipated. On the other hand, her foray into the audience provided an opportunity to get a sense of who the real Yanna Avis truly is. Seeing her vulnerable made her a bit less mysterious and that much more likeable.