My husband treated us to a night of surprising jazz from the most unlikely place, a private Seattle high school near Capitol Hill.
I brought our own high schooler James, 15, to the final showing Nov. 4 at the Seattle Academy Upper School. He hadn’t been to a live performance of anything since “Lion King” in 2014 when a musician friend played his guitar parts in the orchestra pit of the Paramount Theatre. That was a thrill, seeing actors in their gigantic animal costumes stroll down the aisle toward the open stage. Man!
As soon as he was old enough to sit still, I would take our son to children’s musicals at the Seattle Center, in hopes he would get bit by the acting bug or, at the very least, appreciate the performing arts. He’d go kicking and screaming, but when the curtain came down, he always demanded an encore. He watched with rapt attention, taking everything in, on and off the stage. Later, bursting to meet the actors, as well as check out the set design up close, asking where the sounds came from, why did that light turn red from blue?
He even took a few performance classes, nothing serious unfortunately. I’d also hoped to move him up to acting. He was too young at the time; just a few more years. But in a few more years, he grew to love sports (namely, soccer) more, abandoning the musicals of his early youth.
I’d hoped the same fire would return watching the performance of “City of Angels,” the Tony-Award-winning Broadway musical based on 1940s film-noir detective stories. Alas, his easily bored teenaged soul yearned to be back home watching “Stranger Things” on Netflix, chowing down on Uber Eats and Snap-Chatting.
With a musical steeped in the 1940s, there had to be the requisite jazz numbers. The band in the modest orchestra pit tucked underneath audience risers had to be slamming. And, they were. My husband led the band on piano. I saw at least three of his Nearly Dan (Steely Dan tribute band) members in the horn section. Nearly Dan creative leader Jack Klitzman on reeds was the one who got Ed on the gig in the first place for a four-night run.
Ed got a kick out of going back into high school theater, meeting the student actors, working around their dialogue and working through dress rehearsals. He used to do this very thing back when he went to high school at Kalaheo in Kailua, circa the late 1970s. After graduating, he did one huge musical production in Hawaii featuring world-famous comedian Jo Anne Worley.
His most recent foray back as an adult working musician was on the Carole King bio-musical, “Beautiful,” which he called a bitch to do, because of the huge material and the pin-point timing.
For us, the best part of the high school musical, “City of Angels,” had to be the jazz performances. Even our son thought so. James (who used to play trumpet in school band) praised his dad for acting as the dominant musical figure in the orchestra pit, adding that the piano performed as its own main character — in the sound effects and the underlying score.
We couldn’t really get into the acting or the story within a story of a screenplay writer trying to make sense of his and his alter’s life for an upcoming cinematic project. We kept notices the gaffes in lighting and sound, the mistakes in dialogue, the confusion, the memory lapses, would the leading man Stine slip on those pages (no)? would femme fatale Alaura miss catching the tennis ball (yes)? But these are kids, this is high school. Give ’em a break. They did fabulously, all things considered.
But then, everything stopped when Jaidyn Lam introduced herself as Bobbi, the lounge singer who got away, in a powerful, all-out jazz number in the middle of the first act. She belted out “With Every Breath I Take” up on that balcony — and I completely forgot she was in high school. She looked and sounded every bit the part of a 1940s MGM actress, Lana Turner and Ava Gardner wrapped up in one lovely package.
The people in lighting shot her with dual shadows as a backdrop, which heightened her tragic character and the age of this musical setting. But that voice, WOW. She was just as good and just as compelling as a grown-up jazz singer at Tula’s or Jazz Alley. Hell, she could probably win the Seattle-Kobe Female Jazz Vocal Audition if she submitted herself in February.
Unbelievably, Lam took on two roles, that of the doomed starlet wannabe and Gabby, the filmmaker’s dutiful good girl assistant who almost has an affair with the writer, Stine. Two very different characters, two very different vocal performances. What a closing night.
Ed told me the kid who played the fictional gumshoe Stone, Simon Matisse, was fantastic to work with, very down-to-earth, very open to direction, and very cool. Singing wasn’t his forte. He earned that pivotal role through sheer force of personality, as an actor’s actor.
Another student actor, Luca Rogoff memorably played two roles: Buddy Fidler and Irwin S. Irving. She provided much-needed comedy relief with the snappy, show-biz-talkin’ movie-maker Buddy, stealing almost every scene. Ed said she was a delightful addition to the cast, crackling with wit on- and off-stage.
“City of Angels” as a story took a long time to catch fire with me. I easily followed the story-within-a-story narrative of parallel lives — one real, one fictional, both intersecting in the finale, though.
Chemistry plays a bigger role in whether a story like this works with general audiences, not all of them musical fans.
But the live music… That was the star.