By John Hoglund, Backstage | February 21, 2001
For the past few years, Yanna Avis has worked hard at her craft. She’s offered wonderfully entertaining shows with a lot of panache. Her multilingual songs in tightly knit acts have always recalled images of Dietrich, Piaf, and the tasteful and charming naughty ladies Cole Porter wrote about. Today, this glamorous beauty glided through a sexy, fun hour with joie de vivre to spare.
Avis has had to work through the burdens of her well-known last name and social status to be taken more seriously for what she is, not who she is. And, the results are bravura. With this new show, under two-time Tony-winner Thommie Walsh’s effulgent direction, her intentions and talent will never again be questioned. So, once and for all, let’s forget the last name and treat this hypnotic lady as the triple-threat talent into which she has evolved in one of the season’s best acts.
Always in touch with her strengths, Avis has found her niche as an interpreter of a savoir faire cabaret recalling the beginnings of this time-honored genre. Like a young Dietrich, she, too, has become a master illusionist of intelligent, often silly, sex-ridden images in song and fantasy.
Opening with the rarity “Look Me Over Closely” (which Dietrich recorded, but never performed in public), Avis saunters like a sexy burlesque queen from one end of the caf to the other; arching her back, seductively flirting, she sets the stage for this steamy act. Cole Porter’s “Ça c’est l’amour,” followed by Michel Emer’s “Je m’en fous pas mais,” is almost debauching in its presentation. Remarking that “in sailing over thin water, your safety net is your speed,” she glides through German, Spanish, and French songs that are electrically charged paeans to another era.
Highlights on the night I attended also included “Ten Cents a Dance,” “An Occasional Man,” and “Just a Gigolo.” Each was infused with sex appeal and subtle choreography that cast a spell over the room enhanced by the haunting accordion in her instrumental trio. As she captured every irony of Murray Grand’s “Guess Who I Saw Today?,” it read like a whispered three-act play. Once in fierce control of her emotion and body language, Walsh has managed to strip away Avis’ patrician veneer. Closing with her mainstay, “Parlez-moi d’amour,” Yanna Avis proved she could climb more than just the social ladder. This careful crafted show dispelled any doubts and proved the lady is a winner-in any language. Watch for her return to The FireBird in the fall.
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