Wesla Whitfield and Mike Greensill are better than ever, which is saying something as they’ve been better than most for quite some time. The singer and her husband, the arranger/pianist, haven’t been seen regularly here in San Francisco since they moved north a few years back, but anytime they return is cause for attention and celebration, especially when they’re part of the auspicious launch of a new cabaret room.
The lovely space is called Society Cabaret, and it’s tucked away in the Hotel Rex, right off Union Square. It’s not a room designed for performance, but it’s more than suitable, charming even with its comfy-but-elegant New York-style decor, including red tablecloths on little cocktail tables. There’s a small stage area big enough for piano, bass and drums (Whitfield’s set up). Lighting is rudimentary (the room itself never really gets dark), but the key thing is the sound, which is just fine – could be louder, could be warmer, but it’s nice and clear.
How wonderful to have a truly intimate, unfussy cabaret space where you feel comfortable, unpressured and free to just enjoy the music. (There’s no two-drink minimum, but food and drink are available, of course.)
And what music. Whitfield’s new show is Street of Dreams, another of her “I have to call it something, so why not this?” creations that’s simply a reason to sing more than a dozen great tunes and do a little bantering with the band and the audience.
Backed by the inimitable Greensill, whose arrangements are pure gold, and basisst John Wiitala and drummer Vince Lateano on drums – a stellar trio by any standard – Whitfield spends 80 blissful minutes doing what she does best: bringing out the best of the Great American Songbook.
Highlights in this set include a heart-melting “The Folks Who Live on the Hill,” a swingin’ “The Gypsy in My Soul” and a version of Sondheim’s “In Buddy’s Eyes” that is a master class in how underplaying the emotion of a song can maximize its impact.
Greensill does a little singing in this show as well, which is a wonderful addition to the act. He sings an old chestnut called “When the Morning Glories Wake Up in the Morning,” then he and Whitfield duet charmingly on “Little Tin Box” from Fiorello. Other show tunes include “On the Other Side of the Tracks” from Little Me and “Show Me” from My Fair Lady.
Whitfield unearths Cole Porter’s 1941 “Dream Dancing” as a romantic gem and gives the Street of Dreams concept a workout with a lustrous “When You Wish Upon a Star” and a show-ending medley of “I’ll See You in My Dreams” and “When I Grow Too Old to Dream.” She also dusts off “Love Is a Necessary Evil,” a sly tune (by Marvin Fisher and Jack Segal) that features the lyric, “Who needs it? No one but the whole human race.”
There were a few bobbled lyrics on opening night (Porter’s “You’re the Top,” complete with reference to King Kong’s knob, was initially irksome but ultimately conquered), and Greensill joked, “We used to be nervous on opening nights…we used to be much better on opening nights.” But truth be told, these guys are pros. Opening night was delightful – a dream you might even say.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Wesla Whitfield and Mike Greensill’s Street of Dreams continues through Sept. 15 at Society Cabaret in the Hotel Rex, 562 Sutter St., San Francisco. Tickets are $35-$75 (no minimums). Call 800-982-2787 or visit www.societycabaret.com.