By Stephen Mosher, BWW
Birdland may be a famous jazz institution in New York City but The Birdland Theater is not. The newer performance space at Birdland was built as a place where lines blur a little, making it a venue where a festive variety of musical genres can be found, from bona fide jazz to Broadway brass, from American Idol pop to musical comedy, and this weekThe Birdland Theater was transformed into a rock and roll venue for Catherine Porter AND Jim Vallance, and the crowd was living for it.
Catherine Porter, an interesting woman if ever there was one, has spent her life as a musician firmly planted in the middle of two worlds. A lover of musical theater, she has played some impressive shows opposite some mind-blowing actors, all the while nurturing the true heart of a rocker chick who has played with rock and roll greats. At this time in her life, though, Ms. Porter happens to be dating one of the rock and roll greats, songwriter Jim Vallance, and when Porter had an opportunity to play The Birdland Theater, it could not have been more clear to her that the evening was meant to be an event that brought together her voice and his music. Ever the gentleman, Vallance insisted that they switch off during their set, with Porter alternating between his compositions and her own, and the resulting show was a rowdy night of beloved music and new discoveries, not the least of which was Catherine Porter herself.
While many people in the cabaret and nightclub community know Ms. Porter through her own work and her appearances with Elizabeth Ward Landand Susie Mosher, some of the patrons at Tuesday night’s performance were in the house to hear Jim Vallance play (on a variety of instruments) his compositions for Bryan Adams, Aerosmith and others, and to hopefully listen to him tell some stories about those creations. Those guests of the Birdland Theater were not disappointed because the incredibly charming Vallance has great stories and, it turns out, enviable comic timing, rendering each one of his stories about working with the most famous names in rock and roll the furthest thing from actual name-dropping (an ongoing joke in the show) and more like a rock version of Inside The Actors Studio. People may know the name Jim Vallance, but this gave them a chance to know the man, and not just through his ease at effectively entertaining with his recollections – the audience learned on Tuesday night that Jim Vallance is a gentleman and a gentle man, through his interactions with Catherine Porter. The couple is so devoted that the playful way with which they speak to one another, mixed with the romantic way that the look at each other, fills the stage, indeed the entire room, with the spark of true chemistry. Watching him watch her as she sings his music, listening to her bring his compositions to life, it is the magic of familial understanding and absolute trust, to say nothing of the palpable pride exhibited by two consummate musicians in their support of the other and their art. Their love is the main story arc in a show that features several other stories, ranging from the 16 songs performed to the stories behind them, not all of them being stories of celebrity and levity.
Catherine Porter is a happy woman, a fact made abundantly clear by her onstage persona and exuberant enjoyment of the music issuing forth from her being. She is also a woman who has faced trials and triumphed, one of her recent experiences being her relationship with cancer, which has given birth to a new (currently untitled) one-woman musical about that relationship and the journey it has taken her on. After spending more than half of their show using her crystalline voice to showcase their respective compositions and the processes behind those creations, Porter opens up to the audience by discussing her cancer and her musical before sharing two shattering and fascinating pieces from the show. The generosity of the artists in bestowing upon an interested audience these musical gifts of so personal a journey was repaid by a rousing ovation — but that was par for the course during a night that left most people in the crowd dancing in their seats and mouthing along (some singing) with these tunes that have been a part of their lexicon for many a year. Equal in the stories being told on Tuesday was the story of a room full of rock and roll fans, thrilled to be in so intimate a setting with one of their idols, and falling in love with a new idol; a mere glance around the room at the joy on display was a welcome blanket of warmth on a cold winter night.
Joining Catherine and Jim on stage Tuesday night were the stunningly talented Nate Brown on guitar, Clint de Ganon on drums, Steve Gilewski on bass, and Brad Simmonsat the piano and vocals – and what vocals! If a duet of the Anne Murray Classic “Now and Forever” weren’t enough fun for the audience, his rendition of Aerosmith’s “Ragdoll” certainly brought the house down. The Catherine Porter and Jim Vallance show was everyone’s chance to live out their rock and roll fantasy… including Susie Mosher, whom Catherine credits with helping boost her career, when one of the final songs of the night brought surprise guests Mosher and Elizabeth Ward Land onto the stage for Heart’s “What About Love” and the crowd went wild. These three strong, empowered, beautiful, powerful women, their sisterly devotion for one another filling the stage and the eyes of a happily pent-up audience, used three unique and powerful rock and roll voices blending in perfection to bring the house down in one indelible moment from a night filled with quality musical storytelling.
The most memorable part of the evening, though, would be Catherine Porter herself. This is a lady and an artist so relaxed into who she is, so confident as to what she is about, so committed to living in life and in the music, that it is inevitable for each person to be drawn to her wit, charm and talent. As fun and fabulous, as touching and terrific as the entire show was, not one man nor one woman on the stage or in the audience would dispute that the raison d’etre for this evening of theater is one woman so luminous as to lead those in this musical journey, like the beacon of light that all who see and hear her will acknowledge her to be.
Catherine Porter and Jim Vallance will return to Birdland with future dates; when they have been announced Broadway World will bring that news. In the meantime, please visit the Birdland calendar for other shows by visiting their website