L.A Hit By A Powerhouse from Jersey!
By Michele Black
Los Feliz was rocked by a 10.0 earthquake last Monday evening! Did you feel it? I, along with a sold out crowd, sure did! The epicenter was The Rockwell Table and Stage Restaurant, and the force behind the rocking and reeling was none other than Broadway stage, film and television star Renee Marino! The moment Marino stepped out on stage to begin her first L.A solo cabaret show it was non-stop energy for a solid hour plus.
“I Am Me, Because of Three,” was the theme of the evening’s show. Written by Marino and Dante Russo, musical direction by Gerald Sternbach and directed by Coy Middlebrook. A poignant, funny and musical dedication to the three people who Marino credited with being the driving force behind her success, her parents Frank (Big Shit) I’ll explain the nicknames later and Ona Marino (Ona Baby,) and her Grandmother whom Marino affectionately referred to as “Frannie Panties.”
Marino accompanied on piano by Musical Director and arranger Gerald Sternbach, along with a sensational combo, Steven Hernandez on drums, Tony Pulizzi on guitar and Carlos Rivera Jr. on bass brought the Rockwell stage alive! When I asked Gerald Sternbach his thoughts on working with Marino had this to say, “I loved working with Renee…She is smart and knows what she wants and is a terrific collaborator…The medleys were mostly her idea, but she was open to suggestions and risks…being so incredibly invested with the material…and thusly a joy to work with.” Marino looking gorgeous, upbeat and happy immediately took command of the stage pulling the audience into her energetic story. Belting Irving Berlin’s “Let Yourself Go” with a decidedly Latin flair, as she danced and invited us to walk through a musical romp of her life;
“Tonight I’d like you all to let yourselves go with me on this journey, as I tell you about the three people who I call my power trio, as a girl growing up, what else could I ask for? I had not only my Mom and Dad, but my Grandmother too, who lived with me from the day I was born, the love we had was beyond what any can imagine!”
Marino’s songs were eclectic and timed perfectly with the story as she threw in funny tidbits about her loving and supportive family, dating, and the entertainment industry. She weaved a tale about devoted parents who taught her by example to keep going and believe her dreams could materialize, to all the struggles and adventures she had on her way to Broadway and film success. Sharing with us her first dose of reality, when she was a young girl of 12 in her first girl band where the producer wanted to change everything about her! Her hair looks and clothes- her father shut that down pretty quickly by telling her to be true to herself. Marino joked with a wink that the name of the girl band she choose to leave was “Destiny Child” before they hit it big. The timing of each song had precision timing and fit into each story line like a perfect puzzle piece. Beginning with the story of the negative chatter of the producer of the girl band and her father’s sage advice “Never change, believe in who you are, never give up, and never compromise.” – She dropped “Girls Gone Bad” by Rihanna.
Taking her father’s advice to heart – Marino chose a medley of Colbie Caillat’s “Try” and “If You Believe” from “The Wiz” and knocked it out of the ball park! As I was thinking about Marino’s choice of “If You Believe” from the “Wiz” as it celebrates 40 years since it first opened on Broadway! I thought “what a powerful statement of just being comfortable with where you are and who you are in the moment.” Lena Horne who played “Glinda the Good” in the original “Wiz” said to Diana Ross who played “Dorothy” just before she sang “If You Believe,” she said “If we know ourselves, we’re home anywhere!”
Marino is a performer who thanks to the strength of her character and her parents and Grandmother’s belief in her abilities –knows herself, she is comfortable and confident in her skin, and definitely at “home” on stage. That confidence exuded from her as each of the 13 favorite songs she chose told her story in vibrant detail.
Delighting her audience with humorous tales from her childhood, she tried to explain to her friends why her father called her “Little Shit,” versus “sweetheart”.. “Your dad calls you “little shit?” that doesn’t bother you? my dad calls me sweetheart”. Marino answered “No, he calls me “Little Shit!” Marino without missing a beat laughing at the memory looked out over the audience and said “He calls me Little Shit, I call him Big Shit” and it went on from there.
Next, Marino walked us through a chronological musical medley portraying the ups, downs, disappointments heartbreaks and ultimately joy of having shows open and close on and off Broadway. Marino chose “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey and “Girl On Fire” by Alicia Keys, and the fun “Sunny Side of the Street” by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields. I just have to take a moment and say this; my job at The Hollywood Times affords me the opportunity to see cabaret shows, musical theater and plays on several occasions all year through. However, in all the time that I have gone out to review those shows, I have never had one that made me laugh, cry and stand up and want to cheer until Marino’s show. She is electrifying and an absolute joy to watch. She dedicated Sara Bareilles “Brave” to her mother Ona Baby, in remembrance of her standing up to a tyrannical boss, followed by “ I Hope You Dance” gorgeously sung. Marino has the chops to go head to head with any past or present actress or vocalist her stage presence is captivating.
Stand outs for the night for me were the dating sequence where Marino regaled us with tales of how her parents first met and how finally they ended up together, her first kiss and the giddiness that comes along with that by singing Milton De Lugg/ Willie Stein made famous by Nat King Cole “Orange Colored Sky.” I absolutely was blown away at the power in her voice as she strut her stuff across the stage then down the runway to end “Orange Colored Sky,” on such a strong, forceful long note that it took my breath away. Marino is pure entertainment!
Funnier still was when Marino took to the cabaret stool and shared some of the crazy dates she went on before she met and married her wonderful husband Michael. Lamenting over the fact that one of her dates rarely ate, which just wasn’t going to work for Marino who grew up in an Italian home , where many great meals were shared. Right in the middle of talking about how much she loved to eat her mama’s and Grandmother’s cooking, she had the wait staff bring French fries for her to eat , because she was hungry! It was a funny touch that brought a laugh from the crowd. Marino knows how to keep her audience attention, and she is just a delight to watch.
Let me just say, Marino has great comedic timing, she had the audience laughing hilariously at her facial expressions after she shared that one of her dates went into great detail about his criminal past then had the “cajones” to ask her out again to which she replied, wide eyed and bewildered, “Are you EFFING kidding me?” Too funny! Intermingled between her dating stories were fragments of “It Must Be Love/ Somewhere Out There/Killing Me Softly/ Take My Breath Away,” a beautifully executed and hilariously timed sequence that just won the crowd over.
My second favorite of the night, that left me, as well as half the audience in tears was her beautiful song dedicated to her beloved “Frannie Panties” just before she sang it to us she shared how her “Frannie Panties” carried everything necessary for life in her bra and then proceeded to pull out of her own bra the things “Frannie” had concealed in hers. Funny touch, I died laughing. Marino again moved the crowd with an outstanding rendition of “ I Got You Under My Skin” by Cole Porter done cha- cha style! And “Smile” by Charlie Chaplin/Geoffrey Parsons; it was simply beautifully sung and when Marino walked to the edge of the stage and blew a kiss to her precious “Frannie Panties” upward toward the heavens, seriously brought a tear to my eye, and I wasn’t alone in that endeavor, half the audience was in tears.
I loved the interaction between Sternbach and Marino as he played different characters throughout her life, and how she would turn to him during the narration as he played different roles. Nice touch. One of my favorite scenes of the night, was when she explained how she negotiated and successfully landed the role in Jersey Boys as Mary Delgado on Broadway. The story went like this- she was called to audition for one of the “Angels” however, once she was there she felt she would be better suited to play “Mary Delgado,” she shared that with the casting director, who to Marino’s surprise agreed and tried to get her to return the next day to audition for Mary, which Marino was having none of it “ No, no , no we’re gonna do it right now!” a gutsy move that paid off, as not only was she Mary Delgado on Broadway, but chosen by Clint Eastwood to play Mary Delgado in the film of the same name after seeing her perform the role in a Sunday Matinee showing of “Jersey Boys.” To highlight that exciting time in her life, Marino chose the fun “My Boyfriend’s Back” and the theme from “Rawhide.”
Hopping back up on her cabaret stool, cigarette in hand, Marino treated us to what is easily my favorite line in “Jersey Boys” the movie, channeling Mary Delgado. Marino recited “ You’re Italian, you gotta end in a vowel, “Delgaaado, Castellucciooo, pizzzza – Valli with an “I” it says “ This is who I am , if you don’t like it you can go F**k yourself.” The audience ate it up! From there Marino thanked us for being a wonderful audience. Rounding the end of the evening with the energy charged, hand clapping on your feet rendition of one of my favorite Gloria Estefan “Get On Your Feet” which literally brought the audience to it’s feet as they cheered and clapped, for the second ovation of the night!
Lastly, Marino finished her show with a shout out to her Disney family and to remind us all that “When You Wish Upon a Star” your dreams really can come true. I loved the ending! Marino accompanied beautifully by Sternbach on piano singing lovingly toward the audience said goodnight to an extraordinary night of music. I for one, as well as the entire audience had a phenomenal night. We in L.A are so fortunate to have Marino on the West coast, I am glad we have not seen the last of this high wattage performer. Like I said earlier Marino possesses the talent, chops, charisma and class to hold her own in this very competitive business. I wish her well in all her future endeavors. Take a backseat and hold on , this girl is heading straight for the stratosphere! Interested in finding out what Marino is up to next? Check out her website at www.reneeemarino.com
The only let down of the evening, had nothing to do with the talent , but everything to do with the venue’s poor choice of not offering “Devotion Vodka” on their drink menu! What a disappointment to find that out! Hopefully they will rectify that situation soon!
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Image credits: Dawn Deines
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