The Bistro Awards – Elizabeth Ward Land

Posted on January 28, 2020 by Betsyann Faiella in Bistro Awards

I was happy to see the debut nightclub act of a phenomenal singer-actress, Elizabeth Ward Land, who recently brought the show back to The Green Room 42, where it premiered last year. Land is clearly an experienced stage and screen performer, having worked on- and off-Broadway, in regional theatre and tours of City of AngelsPassionAmazing GraceCurvy Widow, and numerous others, and on such television shows as Madam SecretaryThe Good Fight, and Elementary. It’s very hard to believe she’s just now making a bow on the cabaret stage, but I suppose you can’t do everything at once!

In describing her to someone today, I said, “She just has one of those voices bestowed from above.” That and a lot of training, of course. With a wide-ranging instrument as clear as a bell and absolutely stunning, along with a talented group of supporting players on stage with her, she dove into Linda Ronstadt’s repertoire in a show titled Still Within the Sound of My Voice: The Songs of Linda Ronstadt, directed by Alan Muraoka. (The origins of this show pre-dated the recent documentary about Ronstadt with a similar name.)

Land explained that Ronstadt’s music resonated with many phases of her own life story, and she used the music and history of Ronstadt’s career to tell that story—from Land’s decision to give up her oboe studies and become an actress (which she likened to Ronstadt’s decision to leave home for California at age 18), through the ups and downs of finding employment on the stage, falling in love with the wrong guys (and then Mr. Right), and losing her father the day her debut CD, First Harvest, was released.

Though Land did stay primarily in the rock-pop realm, she chose a beautiful, exciting, and varied repertoire from all of the Ronstadt eras: early rock, through her smashing, classic Mexican folk era, Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, the Great American Songbook albums with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, and her Trio collaborations with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. The show was tightly scripted, and the delivery of every line was perfect, with a few off-the-cuff jokes (I’m assuming) that caught the other players by surprise.

Land began her opening number, “Heat Wave” (Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland, Edward Holland) with a slowly burning first verse, then launched into a high-energy version reminiscent of Ronstadt’s, but it was original—as were all of the arrangements, which were newly created by music director Andrew David Sotomayor, who accompanied on piano and led the band (Kevin Kuhn on guitars, Jordan Jancz on cello and bass, Arei Sekiguchi on drums). With guest artists Joel Waggoner and Catherine Porter working with Land as a trio, plus providing background vocals, and in some instances leads, Land was more than ably supported throughout the evening by absolutely top-notch musicians. Waggoner created the vocal arrangements for the show and expertly played violin on several numbers, as well as providing some hilarious and memorable moments. Hint: he has moves. Catherine Porter has another beautiful voice and tons of personality. Land was generous in spreading around the attention, giving both these performers time to shine.

Linda Ronstadt is an idiosyncratic artist, who defied being categorized because her M.O. was to explore any kind of music she cared for. She constantly ignored naysayers to follow her passions, most notably in recording the phenomenally successful What’s New and the Spanish language albums, beginning with Canciones de mi Padre. It’s clear that Land did her research, and she even went an extra mile to learn “Frenesi” phonetically to deliver it in very credible Spanish.

Land plays oboe, which she did to great comic effect in the Pirates of Penzance section of the show. She also played guitar and piano. I found her guitar accompaniment on “Long, Long Time” (Gary B. White) distracting, or perhaps it was her set-up that directed my focus to her slightly tentative playing, interfering with my appreciation of her performance of the song. I love that song, so I wish I could have fully concentrated on Land’s vocal delivery. For her encore, the poignant entreaty “Desperado” (Glenn Frey, Don Henley), Land was at the keys sensitively accompanying herself while navigating the changing moods.

The show had an abundance of historical content, and I was a bit surprised at how much exposition establishing the theme of their parallel lives came so near the top of the show. I wanted to get to know her better musically before I heard her talk about the show’s premise. After all, it was already understood that she had an affinity for Ronstadt since the show consisted of her music exclusively. The mixing of the two life stories seemed complicated—I’ve seen this done before a bit more simply; a little editing would help. Nonetheless, the story of how the two women’s lives have intersected was fun and often affecting.

Elizabeth Ward Land is a bundle of high-end talent, extremely polished and gifted. Make no mistake, though, this show is flamboyant and energetic. Faced with the daunting task of having to choose from among the many Ronstadt songs, she succeeded in creating a program that was meaningful, sexy, and deeply touching, as well as expertly paced.

Still Within the Sound of My Voice: The Songs of Linda Ronstadt
The Green Room 42 – January 17, 18, 19; added performance February 15

About the Author

Though now Betsyann Faiella is known in New York primarily as a publicist, she came to that profession from two previous careers that contributed to her love of promoting creative people: as a working singer and as a media producer. She made her cabaret debut at the legendary Reno Sweeney. She was the lead singer in a band with Lewis Friedman, the impresario of both Reno Sweeney and s.n.a.f.u. Later she performed in such other iconic venues as Birdland, Blue Note, the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles, and Ronnie Scott’s in London. She appeared in concert with jazz legends Hank Jones and Paul Smith and performed at arts centers and universities around the country.

The Bistro Awards – Elizabeth Ward Land