Carolyn Montgomery-Forant ★★★★☆

Carolyn Montgomery-Forant in “Visible Phoenix” (photo: Russ Weatherford)

Visible Phoenix
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
Oct 17, Nov 21, Dec 22*, Mar 13, Apr 10 & May 8

* special Holiday performance w/ guests
Director: Eric Michael Gillett
Musical Director: Don Rebic
Bass: Tom Hubbard
Guitar: Sean Harkness
Reeds: Dan Glaude
Percussion: Richard Huntley
Creative Consultant: Jay Rogers

What a difference a decade away from ‘the business’ can make!  Just ask Carolyn Montgomery-Forant, a lovely singer who’s back – in a big, brassy way – with a terrific new show, Visible Phoenix, in a monthly gig at The Laurie Beechman Room that may prove a tough ticket based on the SRO opening night crowd last Friday, October 17.  See what happens when you take a few years off to have an adorable son, nurture a relationship, and run a cafe?  You turn into a sassy, confident performer who’s got something to say – and then says it!  Everyone should be so lucky.  And it must be said, Montomgery-Forant makes it look easy, too!

The first thing you notice about Montgomery-Forant is the smile, which is wide and welcoming, and then you notice her eyes, which sparkle with experience and determination.  She smartly employs both of these assets to generous effect in everything she sings, making her as watchable as she is entertaining.  For you see, Montgomery-Forant is a woman over 40 and she doesn’t care who knows it.  In fact, she’s built this show, Visible Phoenix, around that fact and it serves her well.  And please note she’s ‘visible’ and not ‘rising’ – she’s already risen and is ready to be noticed.  And with a well-chosen, eclectic collection of standards and rarities, Montgomery-Forant gets her wish.

Interspersed with classics like “Night and Day” (in French, thank you very much, because she can), “You Fascinate Me So” (one of Carolyn Leigh’s best lyrics) and “If Ever I Would Leave You” (smartly sung as a love song to her son), Montgomery-Forant mixes in a handful of original songs she’s written for herself that redefine ‘special material.’  Her funny, socio-political “The Mermaid and the Whale” makes a point about appearance, while her hilarious “The Lebanese Lament” (written with Jeff Cubeta) may be the last word in post-feminist sexuality.  As for Montgomery-Forant’s “Mean Girls,” a wickedly pointed barb at her own sex’s predilection for eating their own, the phrase ‘instant classic’ comes to mind.

Other highlights of Visible Phoenix include a moving rendition of Kenny Loggins’ “Danny’s Song,” a sultry reading of Amanda McBroom & Michele Brourman’s “Hot in Here” and a spot-on performance of Maltby & Shire’s “Life Story”.  Montgomery-Forant’s shimmering soprano has grown in depth and complexity over the years, undoubtedly as she has herself.  She’s in great voice and, in today’s world of stunningly mediocre pop singers, what a pleasure it is to hear someone sing with expert phrasing and musical line.  You know, like the good old days.

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