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Josephine Beavers Shines at Feinstein’s/54 Below

Josephine Beavers Shines at Feinstein’s/54 Below

If you ever worry that it’s too late to do what you want to do, look for inspiration to jazz vocalist Josephine Beavers, who will prove you wrong.  Ms. Beavers is a warm, classy, beautiful woman of a certain age, who has both a lively style, and a masterful control of her instrument.  In what was both her professional singing debut and her Feinstein’s/54 Below debut, this Chicago native showed that talent has no age limits.  

This appearance coincides with the belated release of her debut album, “Prime Time”, which was recorded 25 years ago with a full orchestra under the musical direction of her brilliant arranger, musical director, and pianist, Ed Vodicka, who still guides her today.  Mr. Vodicka, also a Chicago native who now divides his time professionally between New York and Los Angeles, is a free lance arranger, musical director and musician, equally at home as an accordionist and organist as he is an outstanding jazz pianist.  

Josephine Beavers Photo Jeffrey Lyle Segal

Ms. Beavers’ voice has grown a touch softer over the years, but remains smooth and clear, buoyed by a consummately professional style, which has not dimmed with time.   I have heard a lot of cabaret performances by older performers.  But few have kept their instrument in as good a shape as Ms. Beavers has done over the years.

Ed Vodicka Photo Jeffrey Lyle Segal

For this 54 Below show, Mr. Vodicka brought in four outstanding players: Tony Tedesco on drums, Steve LaSpina on bass, Glenn Drewes on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Lou Marini  on tenor sax, flute, and clarinet. Together they sounded like twice as big a group, thanks also to Mr. Vodicka’s superb big band style arrangements.  That wasn’t always good for Ms. Beavers, however, because the Studio 54 sound man often mixed her too far back, and seemed to be paying more attention to his phone than to the show. 

Josephine Beavers Photo Jeffrey Lyle Segal

Ms. Beavers’ story is a touching one.  She was married for 51 years to McDonald’s executive Bob Beavers before his death in 2014. She regularly sang on an amateur basis, and toured for a couple years as guest vocalist with the McDonalds’ All American High School Jazz Band. But mostly she chose simply to be a good corporate wife, rather than pursue a professional singing career. Only when her husband passed did she decide it was time to step into the spotlight herself.  

Josephine Beavers Photo Jeffrey Lyle Segal

Considering that she chose to debut professionally in the most competitive town for singers in the world, Ms. Beavers delivered the goods. She focused on a selection of American Songbook classics, including “Change Partners” (I. Berlin), “Night and Day”,  “What is this Thing Called Love”, and “In the Still of the Night” (C. Porter), “But Beautiful” (J. Van Heusen), “I’ve Got a Crush on You” and “S’wonderful” (G. & I. Gershwin), “Teach Me Tonight” (S. Cahn), “I’ll Be Seeing You” (I. Kahal), and “Where or When” (Rogers and Hart).  Mixed in were a few modern classics, “Lotta Livin’ to Do” (C. Strause, from Bye Bye Birdie), “Cry Me a River” (A. Hamilton), and “In the Still of the Night”  (F. Parris).   Every song was delivered with the polish and precision of an accomplished performer.

Admittedly, Ms. Beavers still has some things to learn about the art of cabaret.  She still needs to bring more of herself to the songs she sings and really channel the emotions of her material.  I am so accustomed to seeing musical theater performers doing their cabaret shows here, that something is missing for me when I don’t see the singer living as the character in the song.   Ms. Beavers also needs to create somepatter to transition between the songs, and let us know more of her personal story.  

But cabaret is a new world for her, and I’m sure she will layer these more intimate elements into her future shows.   Either way, I’m happy for her, and for her fans, that she is finally letting her own light shine.  

Cabaret

Jeffery Lyle Segal is a multifaceted theater artist who has worn many professional hats. He started as a musical theater performer in his teens. He attended Stanford U., Northwestern University, and SUNY at Binghamton to study acting, directing and dramatic literature. He also wrote theater reviews for The Stanford Daily and was Arts Editor of WNUR Radio at Northwestern. After college, he is proud to have been the first full time Executive Director of Chicago’s acclaimed Steppenwolf Theater Company. He left them to work as a theater actor and director. His special effects makeup skills got him into the movies, working on the seminal cult horror film, Re-Animator.He also did casting for several important Chicago projects, sometimes wearing both production hats, as he did on Chicago’s most famous independent movie, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. While living in Los Angeles, he joined the Academy for New Musical Theater, where he developed two book musicals as a composer, lyricist and librettist, Down to Earth Girl (formerly I Come for Love, NYMF 2008), and Scandalous Behavior! (York Developmental Reading Series 2010). He wrote, produced and performed his song “Forever Mine” as the end title theme of the horror film, Trapped! He also has written songs for his performances in cabaret over the years, and the time he spent pursuing country music in Nashville. Most recently he created a musical revue, Mating the Musical, for the Chicago Musical Theater Festival 2016. In NYC, he has attended the BMI musical theater writers’ workshop, and the Commercial Theater Institute 14 week producer program. He is currently creating a company to develop new musicals online. He still keeps up his makeup chops, working with top doctors in NYC and Chicago as one of the country’s most highly regarded permanent cosmetic artists (www.bestpermanentmakeup.com) and as a member of Chicago local IATSE 476. www.jefferylylesegal.com

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