PLAYBILL PLAYLIST: Broadway Big Band's Caissie Levy, Ariana DeBose, Hannah Elless, Alysha Umphress Pick Female Standards

By Michael Gioia
September 18, 2013

Charlie Rosen's Broadway Big Band will return to 54 Below Sept. 21 and include a special tribute to late Broadway and swing legend Eydie Gorme. In celebration of Gorme and the female artists of the swing and jazz era, the ladies of Big Band pick their favorite standards, performed by females, as part of Playbill.com's Playbill Playlist series.



The 11 PM concert, dedicated to the memory of Gorme, is co-produced by Charlie Rosen and Max Friedman. Broadway Big Band was previously seen at 54 Below in March and May 2013.

Directed by Friedman, Big Band will feature guest vocalists Nick Blaemire (Godspell, Dogfight), Tony Award nominee Daniel Breaker (Passing Strange, Shrek, Love's Labour's Lost), Ariana DeBose (Bring It On, Motown), Hannah Elless (Godspell, Somewhere In Time), Jason Gotay (Bring It On, F#%king Up Everything), Caissie Levy (Ghost, Hair, Murder Ballad), Alysha Umphress (On A Clear Day..., American Idiot) and the band's resident vocalist, Monet Julia Sabel.

Returning vocalists Blaemire, DeBose, Elless, Umphress and Sabel will sing songs they have never previously performed with Rosen's Broadway Big Band.

In anticipation of the 54 Below Big Band return — and in celebration of the ladies of swing — DeBose, Elless, Levy, Umphress and Sabel pick their favorite standards (performed by some of their favorite females) and tell us why they made the list.

Here's how the evening is billed: "Join Broadway bandleader Charlie Rosen (One Man, Two Guvnors) for an evening that puts both modern and classic showtunes on display, sung by the best and brightest of Broadway's young generation of leading performers, in the timeless tradition of Big Band. A full sized Jazz orchestra composed of 17 musicians play Rosen's re-imagined arrangements of an eclectic mix of tunes from Broadway's past, present, and beyond!"

Friedman and Rosen most recently teamed up to present the world premiere of their multimedia revue of the works of Stephen Sondheim, The Bluest Ink, which was staged in concert at (le) poisson rouge and is aiming for a New York return in the coming months.

Rosen previously composed the score for the Roundabout Theater Company's Cyrano de Bergerac and served as musical director and bassist for the onstage band in One Man, Two Guvnors. His other Broadway credits also include Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and 13.

54 Below is located at 254 W. 54th Street. Tickets are $20-$30 plus a $25 food/beverage minimum. For more information and tickets, visit 54Below.com.

Ariana DeBose: "Smile" (as performed by Madeleine Peyroux). Madeleine's voice is such a beautiful reminder of the jazz age. Her warm, easy tones remind me so much of modern Ella Fitzgerald.

Ariana DeBose: "The Nearness of You" (as performed by Nora Jones). She's just effortless! I always feel like she is smirking when I listen to her version of this great tune. While most of her first album was original tunes, her style captures the essence of everything I would want in a NYC jazz lounge.

Ariana DeBose: "Unforgettable" (as performed by Dinah Washington). I am in love with the way she forms words. And don't get me started on her phrasing. Her voice is oozing with passion and strength! #inspirationstation

Hannah Elless: "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" (as performed by Sarah Vaughan). All of my jazz influences stem from one woman - Sarah Vaughan. I listen to her albums on repeat! She is the ultimate interpreter of song and a huge source of inspiration for me as a performer.

Hannah Elless: "Murder, He Says" (as performed by Betty Hutton). Betty Hutton has always been one of my favorites. She opened the door for beautiful women to be funny/quirky and, consequently, her vocal stylings and acting choices are fearless.

Hannah Elless: "Someone To Watch Over Me" (as performed by Lea Salonga). As a little girl I would watch video recordings of Lea Salonga and try to mimic her vowels exactly. Here she is singing a flawless Gershwin standard.

Caissie Levy: "Come Rain or Come Shine" (as performed by Billie Holiday). One of my favorite songs, and one of my favorite singers. Billie Holiday was a master interpreter of music and lyrics. Her phrasing always makes me feel like I'm hearing an old standard for the first time.

Caissie Levy: "Fever" (as performed by Peggy Lee). She's just so cool. Understated and sexy.

Alysha Umphress: "Send Me To The 'Lectric Chair" (as performed by Dinah Washington). Dinah Washington is my absolute favorite voice. She had such a pained, rough tone to her voice but it is still so gorgeous. It sounds like she's not gonna make it to the higher notes, and then she goes even higher, and it's so exciting. Plus, besides interpreting the classic standards, she sang some down dirty nasty songs as well. This song "Send me to the 'lectric chair" I just love. Perfect Dinah.

Alysha Umphress: "I Wish You Love" (as performed by Blossom Dearie). Blossom Dearie has one of the most unique voices ever. There is something so spritely ethereal about it. She had some of the coolest arrangements of even the squarest of songs. To me, there is something so classic 60s New York Greenwich Village about her. It's not a powerful voice, but it's captivating. Plus, she plays piano like a boss. Here is one of my favorites from her, "I Wish You Love."

Alysha Umphress: "Stompin At The Savoy" (as performed by Ella Fitzgerald). Obviously, I couldn't make a list like this and leave off Ella. She is the MASTER. Seriously, no one can touch her scat skills. She's a phenom, a genius. Here's "Stompin at the Savoy." I also ADORE the duet version she does with Louis Armstrong. Their partnership and musical chemistry was MAGICAL.

Alysha Umphress: "Hit The Road to Dreamland" (as performed by Jane Monheit). And, now for a lady on the scene today. Jane Monheit's voice is creamy, buttery goodness. I have been a fan of hers since her debut album came out over 10 years ago and have seen her in concert more times than I can count. Her musicality is truly sensational. She's playing the Blue Note next month. Go see her. This is a "Hit the Road to Dreamland" from her "Live at the Rainbow Room" DVD. GORG.

Monet Julia Sabel: "I Got Lost In His Arms" (as performed by Eydie Gormé). 
I found it so difficult to just pick one of Eydie Gormé's many masterpieces, but this song has always spoken to me, and her powerful, driven vocals, which especially shine on this number, only reiterate its meaning. This song has the potential to be a wistful, romantic ballad, but Eydie (and the rich orchestrations) manages to portray strength and superb control of both the situation and her immense talent.

Monet Julia Sabel: "Make Someone Happy" (as performed by Audra McDonald). I love how the song starts out so simply with only piano; that's all it needs. Audra's voice soars over this arrangement of this timeless tune. She has always been such an inspiration to me, and her voice holds so much color and depth that every note is a story that creates a beautiful picture for the listener. This song's simple yet strong message is the perfect vehicle for Audra's storytelling.