News Column

Matejka, Bell & Co. dazzle in cabaret season-opener; Musicians' talent impresses in Broadway classics at Royal Room.

December 1, 2013


The Colony kicked off its cabaret season Friday night with Michel Bell and Catherine Matejka, a wonderful husband-and-wife duo who warmed a chilly island night with a program of Broadway classics and assorted chestnuts in their Royal Room debut.

With solid arrangements, great musicians and an amazing vocalist, this show proved to be one enjoyable evening. Bell is a truly gifted singer, with a larger-than-life baritone that has been known to stop traffic and to bring chills -- and he did both on opening night.

Best known for two stage roles -- "Joe" in Hal Prince's production of Show Boat (for which he received a Tony Award nomination) and "Porgy" in Gershwin's Porgy and Bess -- Bell also spent some time in the Fifth Dimension and has worked with many of his heroes along the way.

Pianist/musical director Matejka is an accompanist of the highest caliber, laying the foundation of each song while tastefully filling in even the smallest nuances in support of the vocal.

She does this with an impressive technique: coaxing a big sound from the piano when needed and, at other times, employing a notably soft touch that wrings every ounce of emotion out of the sweeter, quiet moments.

She also kept a steady hand on the show from the bench, conducting local musicians Dave Wilkinson on bass and Julie Jacobs on drums. Both contributed value to the party, making for a well- rounded, jazz-trio sound.

The program opened with two big numbers, Without a Song and Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin.' Both are from Bell's CD What a Beautiful Day. Bell's delivery was right on target, setting the stage for the evening ahead.

A triple-play of tunes from the great Nat King Cole -- Ramblin' Rose, I Love You (for Sentimental Reasons) and When I Fall in Love, seemed a perfect fit -- as were some fun selections, like Life Is a Bowl of Cherries (which was downright swinging) and the classic As Time Goes By.

Of special note was the inventive Moonlight and Day. This was a mash-up of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and Cole Porter's Night and Day and was a true duet between the two artists and a highlight of the show.

Bell also put his considerable acting chops to good use in his interpretation of several tunes, including That Lucky Old Sun, and The Impossible Dream. Each one proved better than the one preceding it.

While there might not be many singers who can do justice to The Impossible Dream, and Bell is certainly one who can, his take on Ol' Man River, which closes the show, is simply the best. Ever. Period.

A hastily improvised -- but sweetly delivered -- encore of Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World brought out a few hankies in the crowd, and the song served as the perfect after-dinner cordial to end the program.

Matejka, Bell & Co. shine in their Royal Room debut, delivering a solid show to open The Colony's cabaret season.

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