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.