Tuesday, May 14, 2024

"The First Lady of Song: Ella Sings The Irving Berlin Songbook" at The Hive Collaborative

For their first season, The Hive Collaborative has been exploring the idea of a concept album. Local singer/songwriter Monica Livorsi's new album of Jane Austen-inspired songs (now available for purchase or streaming). Hive co-owner Eric Morris singing from a couple of Frank Sinatra concept albums. The "original concept album" Schubert's Winterreise performed by a couple of fabulous local classical musicians. And last but not least, Deidre Cochran sings Ella Fitzgerald singing Irving Berlin. Each one of these shows has been unique, but they definitely feel like part of a collection. Ella Sings is 60 minutes of music, joy, fun, and community. Check out one of the four more performances this weekend, and then visit Hive's event page to see what else is buzzing this summer (not just music and theater!).

Every time I've been to the Hive (the space formerly known as Dreamland Arts, bought by theater supercouple Laura and Eric Morris last summer), it looks different. They've really turned the intimate performance area, that usually has about 40 seats on risers on one side of the space, into a black box theater. For this show, they've created an in-the-round space, with those 40 seats arranged in a square. Within that square, Deidre Cochran sings familiar and beloved songs written by Irving Berlin, in the style of Ella Fitzgerald (who Eric, director of the show, said recorded eight concept albums, all of which they're hoping to do). She's dressed in a simple black dress that evokes the '50s, with sparkly black tennis shoes with a star on them, because that's what she is. I have to admit, I'm not super familiar with Ella's sound, so I won't say how close Deidre sounds to her. But that's not really the point anyway. She does a beautiful job interpreting the songs in her own way, with her own voice, and she sounds absolutely gorgeous. Mostly unmiked, she sometimes sings a somber song sitting in one place (a couple of benches and stools are all that's in the space), and sometimes sings a happy song moving all around the space. She plays with rhythm, dynamics, and even scatting, and engages the audience by looking us in the eyes (on every side of the stage).

Kyle Baker and Deidre Cochran (photo by Dan Norman)
To say Kyle Baker accompanies Deidre on guitar is to sell him short. He's like a duet partner, playing some half a dozen stringed instruments (various types of guitar, and even a banjo), as they playfully toss the melody back and forth, or harmonize together. Deidre occasionally sings into an old-timey microphone, or a hand-held corded mic, but the sound is not over-amplified, the effect is mostly visual. At all times, the sound is well-balanced and clear in the intimate space, like we're sitting around a cozy living room. A living room with super cool lighting - little floor lights around the square, and hanging bare bulbs of different shapes, sizes, and filaments. Recorded snippets of Ella or Berlin songs are played as the performers transition to the next well-chosen song. The whole program feels playful and casual, yet practiced and polished. (Lighting design by Grant E. Merges, sound design by Bailey Fenn, costumes by Laura Rudolph Morris.)

It's been a really fun first season at The Hive, and Ella Sings is a fantastic conclusion. Check out this charming new space and all the fun things they've got buzzing!