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NEW YORK TIMES

Music Review
Singing for Siri, and Others, With Humor

Raissa Katona Bennett at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency

By STEPHEN HOLDEN
Published: August 23, 2012

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As the singer Raissa Katona Bennett peeled away the layer of perky, ingratiating sweetness that so many Broadway performers feel obliged to affect in nightclubs, a tart-tongued commentator on modern life with a dark sense of humor revealed itself on Wednesday evening at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency. Her show, “Another Kind of Light,” directed by Eric Michael Gillett, had its sticky inspirational moments. But in its best numbers, Ms. Katona Bennett, who played Christine in “The Phantom of the Opera,” dropped the official facade of graciousness and sentimentality to voice a cheerful sense of the absurd.That was all for the good, because her rather thin, shaky, theatrical soprano, though serviceable, is not an instrument that transports you to heavenly realms or tragic depths. It is, however, an effective vehicle for witty storytelling.Two of the numbers that stood out on Wednesday evening were new songs by Michael John LaChuisa. His “Torch Song for Raissa” describes a love affair conducted by text message. Holding up her iPhone, she asked audience members if they understood text codes like NIFOC (“naked in front of computer”) and poked fun at Siri, the iPhone 4S feature that will answer any question. To her query “What is the meaning of life?,” she said that Siri responded, “I can’t answer that now, but give me some time to write a very long play in which nothing happens.”
“Bye, Bye Ingénue” described looking into a mirror and adjusting to the realization that the bloom of youth and the entitlement it confers have passed. The mischievous narrator of the Christine Lavin-Tom Smith comic standard “Good Thing He Can’t Read My Mind,” keeps her mouth shut about her boyfriend’s enthusiasms for opera, skiing and sushi — tastes she doesn’t share.
Ms. Katona Bennett infused foreboding into Ron Abel and Chuck Steffan’s pop-jazz tune “Waiting for a Westbound Train,” about Hollywood dreams. Her most insightful ballad performance joined “If I Love Again” to “Will You?” (from “Grey Gardens”).In “A Tomb With a View,” composed by her musical director and pianist, David Caldwell, the mysticism was balanced by morbid humor. The narrator visits her cemetery plot and lies on her back, gazes at the stars and discerns “another kind of light.”

Raissa Katona Bennett’s “Another Kind of Light” continues through Saturday at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency, 540 Park Avenue, at 61st Street; (212) 339-4095, feinsteinsattheregency.com.

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Raissa Katona Bennett

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“A Bird, a Blood and a Supergroup”

New York Culture

By Will Friedwald
August 23, 2012

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Raissa Katona Bennett: ‘Another Kind of Light’
Feinstein’s at Loews Regency
540 Park Ave., (212) 339-4095
Through Saturday

Near the end of her set, Raissa Katona Bennett offers an anecdote about playing Christine in “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway. The story fits nicely into her show of “I Want”-type songs, the sort that the ingenue would typically sing in Act 1, Scene 1. Ms. Bennett most moving when proceeding from this starting point, as in “Putting Things Away” and “Bye Bye Ingenue,” both delivered from the perspective of a Broadway hopeful, a lifetime and a marriage later. The show is more about consistency than variety, but when Ms. Bennett does deliver a comedy number, like “Torch Song for Raissa” (spoiler alert: it’s about texting) or Christine Lavin’s wonderful, “It’s a Good Thing He Can’t Read My Mind,” she seems all the more funny because of it.

A version of this article appeared August 24, 2012, on page A18 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: A Bird, a Blood And a Supergroup.

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Raissa Katona Bennett

BISTRO AWARDS

“Another Kind of Light”

Raissa Katona Bennett at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency

By Kevin Scott Hall
Published: August 21-25 2012

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When Raissa Katona Bennett, veteran of Broadway shows and champion of cabaret, enters the elegant Feinstein’s at Loews Regency to begin her week-long engagement, she conveys the assurance and warmth of one who is enjoying the occasion. She performs her opening song, “Make Me a Kite” (Michele Brourman, Amanda McBroom), from the room itself, bestowing a collective hug around the crowd like a caring teacher. In lesser hands, a lyric like “Make me a kite, give me rainbow wings/ Make me a kite with a thousand miles of silken string” might translate as sentimental glop, but Bennett’s innate intelligence and sincerity make it work. She has a pleasing, unadorned soprano voice that delivers lyrics with precision, yet with enough flexibility to vary the musical line.Bennett’s show, “Another Kind of Light” (the name of her new CD), was directed by Eric Michael Gillett. It offers an evening mostly of songs that play to her strength, which is telling a story through song. Early on, she says, “Lately, I’ve been purging my life of excess clutter and I don’t want to talk too much.” Indeed, many of her song choices reflect that: they are patter set to music. And, so, songs like “I Furnished My One-Room Apartment” (Stephen Hoffman, Michael Mooney) and “How Could I Not?” (Alan Menken, David Spencer), which lead us through a premise to an epiphany, are the most successful. Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate on You,” a song with a more direct approach, never quite generates the heat it should, though it starts nicely against just percussion and bass and has an impressive vocal build.”Putting Things Away” (Amanda McBroom) and “Torch Song for Raissa” (written especially for her by Michael John LaChiusa) demonstrate her ease with subtle, smart humor. The latter is a witty, jazzy homage to modern-day, technology-infused romance, with a lyric that makes ample use of texting jargon and includes the refrain “Come on and text me.” Bennett is less believable on Christine Lavin’s “Good Thing He Can’t Read My Mind.” One can’t really lose with those lyrics, but Bennett doesn’t strike me as the type who would put up with her loved one’s hobbies just because she loves him.

Throughout, Bennett maintains her poise, charms with well-chosen patter, and, technically, does not make a misstep. She knows how to build a song and explore a lyric. And yet… something is missing. About three-quarters of the way through the show, she says, “I’m a creature of habit, I thrive on structure.” For this reviewer, that was the “aha!” moment. My sense is that Bennett has worked so hard to get it right, polish the act to a fine shine, build an unshakeable structure, that she hasn’t allowed enough room for spontaneity—too few opportunities to let us into her soul.

Likewise, while no one can dispute the talent of her band, the best in the business (David Caldwell, piano; Ritt Henn, bass; Sean Harkness, guitar; Ray Marchica, drums), Bennett is primarily a storyteller and might be better served with just piano. In other words, it’s a lot of window dressing—but we don’t want to be distracted by the beautiful shutters and drapes, we want to see into the room.

Toward the end of the show, Bennett gives us a couple of glimpses into that soul. Another LaChiusa song, “Bye, Bye Ingénue,” walks a tightrope, with Bennett saying a fond goodbye to a successful past of playing the ingénue but taking tentative and courageous steps toward a future as a more fulfilled older woman. That song seemed to be the key to opening her up even more, and she follows it with “Waiting for a Westbound Train” (Ron Abel, Chuck Steffan), arguably the best marriage of material and singer in the act. Bennett digs into this story song about a young girl’s desperate yearning to leave her small town for bigger dreams as if the memory were still fresh for her as well.

Late into the proceedings, while talking about technology, Bennett speaks of the new, environmentally friendly light bulbs. “They take a long time to get bright, but then they shine brighter and longer than the others,” she says. “I take that to heart.” She reveals her own inner light in that statement, a faith that will not be dimmed. That faith, combined with her talent and diligence, may indeed keep her burning bright for years to come. The only thing left for Bennett to do to ensure that is to trust her preparation and then let go of it. Take the leap.

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WHAT “THEY” ARE SAYING ABOUT RAISSA’S LATEST SHOW AND CD, “ANOTHER KIND OF LIGHT”

August 2012

 

“A tart-tongued commentator on modern life.” [Her voice is] “an effective vehicle for witty storytelling.” Stephen Holden, NY TIMES

“A show about ‘I Want’-type songs, the type that an ingénue would typically sing. Most moving when proceeding from this starting point (…) a marriage and a lifetime later, she seems all the more funny because of it.” Will Friedwald WALL STREET JOURNAL

“A lovely voice! What’s noteworthy about Bennett’s sophomore disc ‘Another Kind of Light,’ is her ability to choose fresh and interesting material (…) which she sings beautifully!” David Hurst NEXT MAGAZINE

“”Another Kind of Light’ merits a worthy place in your CD library. It’s an album that articulates a listener’s own unspoken feelings and thoughts – expressing everything from the ecstasy of being in love to the pain of a broken heart.” Elliott Ames, WVOX-AM

“A superb actress, she gave the funniest performance I’ve ever seen of ‘It’s a Good Thing He Can’t Read My Mind.’ […] Katona Bennett had the audience in the palm of her hand.” Joe Regan Jr. TIMES SQUARE CHRONICLES

“This is a singer who communicates with her audience one by one.  She sings as if you are her friend, she makes you feel the warmth of her personality, she makes you laugh.  She is like a glowing fire on a winter night… You must follow her and see for yourself.” Larisa Lerner RADIO POZITIV (Russian Radio NY)


“RAISSA KATONA BENNETT does for contemporary songwriters what Andrea Marcovicci has done for American popular standards. She not only totally personalizes and acts the songs, but at the same time, showcases the writers’ intentions and reveals deeper meanings in the material. With some singers you say, “Wow, what a singer!” With some you say, “Wow, what a song!” With Raissa, you get both!”— DAVID FRIEDMAN – Composer and Musical Director/Writing Partner with Kathie Lee Gifford, from The Today Show’s, “Everyone Has A Story”, and celebrated composer (“Listen to My Heart”, “We Can Be Kind”), Broadway, TV and Movie composer/arranger/conductor.

RAISSA  won the 2011 and 2010 MAC & BISTRO Awards as Outstanding Host for THE CONCERTS FOR CITY GREENS and was nominated for a 2009 MAC* Award for Outstanding Female Vocalist.
*Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs.

 



 

 

Raissa Katona Bennett: Putting Things Away

May 13, 2008
By David Finkle
Raissa Katona Bennett not only has a sweet yet sturdy voice — even piercing and fierce when she wants — but she puts a generous helping of intelligence behind what she does. She also inserts a heap of courage (read chutzpah) into her act, because she doesn’t believe in luring and lulling audiences by clinging to tried-and-true material that remains the usual option for the majority of cabaret purveyors.

She eschews songs from the first two-thirds of the 20th century and concentrates on the so-you-don’t-think-they-write-’em-like-they-used-to crowd. That’s the busy contingent active up to and including the present moment. She seems to adore Craig Carnelia and also has a penchant for, among others, Paul Simon (the most generally recognized name in the collection), Amanda McBroom, Jason Robert Brown, William Finn, David Spencer, David Friedman, and her musical director, David Caldwell. The last-named wrote a song called “A Tomb With a View” that demands an extra dollop of guts. It’s about death and is a more congenial variation on Oscar Wilde’s line about lying in the gutter but looking at the stars. Yup, it’s a gumption inclusion not made any less challenging for being held until late in the set.

Bennett, who’s got a Broadway credit as Christine Daae in Phantom of the Opera on her résumé and a CD, What I Was Dreaming Of, available, appears to have plenty of that gumption commodity. Though petite and cute as a floral-fabric-covered button, she doesn’t indicate she’d shy from anything — and that includes allowing her vulnerability to show. Her title refers to “the bits and pieces of our lives” that accumulate — whether in actuality or psychologically — and how we deal with them. She’s obviously given her subject some thought and even gets specific by singing items like “I Furnished My One-Room Apartment” (Michael Mooney-Stephen Hoffman) from Upstairs at O’Neals and Carnelia’s “Just Where They Should Be.” She’s more philosophical on Finn’s “I Have Found” and, as a beg-off, Friedman’s more familiar “We Live on Borrowed Time.” Eventually, she allows, “Perhaps the universe is trying to tell me there is a place for everything.

…there’s no need for her to give any second thoughts to the program. She knows what she wants to offer audiences and should only be encouraged to stick to her guns.

Presented by and at the Metropolitan Room,
34 W. 22nd St., NYC.
May 11-27. Tue. and Sun., 7 p.m.
(212) 206-0440 or www.metropolitanroom.com.

 


 

 

RAISSA KATONA BENNETT
IT’S POSSIBLE
METROPOLITAN ROOM, NYC

Even though it is her debut cabaret show, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Raissa Katona Bennett quickly wins the approval of her cabaret audience. Bennett brings her lovely coloratura soprano to The Metropolitan Room with a track record in musical theater that includes national companies, regional theaters, Off Broadway, and perhaps most notably as Christine in Phantom of the Opera at the Majestic Theater.

The opening number sets the stage for Bennett’s varied song list to follow. A solid rendition of Amanda McBroom’s The Way of the Heart is a symbolic selection carrying out her autobiographical theme that anything is possible. Studying to become a baby nurse, she decided to change course, follow her heart and become a singer. The personal history leads her, about a third of the way into the show, to her jubilant title song, It’s Possible, from Seussical, The Musical. After that, the audience is treated to a festival of songs, Bennett potent with a wistful Sleepy Man, a lilting Storybook, and Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s yearning Niagra. She also has a humorous bent, revealing her versatility with several wryly comedic songs.

David Caldwell was Bennett’s musical director and accompanist, several times pitching in engagingly on the vocals and with some interplay. The program was directed and co-written by Eric Michael Gillett. J. P. Perreaux was technical director.

Peter Leavy
Cabaret Scenes
November 8, 2006
www.cabaretscenes.com