Rita Wilson

Café Carlyle
New York, NY
Rita Wilson is all for taking risks.  In her varied professional life, she has tried on many hats. In films—acting (Sleepless in Seattle), producing (My Big Fat Greek Wedding)—and, recently, she played the role of Roxie Hart on Broadway in Chicago. Now a songwriter, Wilson released a CD, AM/FM, two years ago and she is currently making her Café Carlyle singing debut.  She quips that she already has a modest connection with the Carlyle through the club's regular, Bobby Short. Although they never met, in the ’70s, they both recorded a popular TV jingle for Revlon’s perfume Charlie.

Lean, effervescent and a youthful 57, Wilson is having a helluva time rocking upbeat tunes, like “Girls Night In” (Rita Wilson, Nathan Chapman and Stephanie Chapman) and her vibrant opener, “Come Along for the Ride” (Wilson with Ann Marie Boskovich).  Her program, mostly original songs she penned with a variety of collaborators, recalls the soft rock and country/pop values of the late ’60s and early ’70s, a sound that has stayed with her since the early days in Los Angeles.  Evident are the influences of Sheryl Crow, James Taylor and especially Joni Mitchell.  One of her few covers in the show is Mitchell’s “River” and she includes a song she wrote with Jason Reeves and Nelly Joy called “Joni."

Sometimes risk taking brings a satisfying high, as proven with Wilson’s joyous enthusiasm in “What You See Is What You Get” (Wilson/Shari Short/Bryan Todd).  Other times, like with “Still Gone” (Wilson, Jessi Alexander, Jon Randall), it evokes the poignancy of lost loved ones.  In warm, lightly jittery patter, Wilson reveals that her mother left Greece for a better life here, and her father escaped from a Bulgarian labor camp, so risk taking is in the family.  She warns, however, that risks also carry an element of stubbornness and self-criticism, indicated in the moving “Grateful” (with (Kara Dioguardi and Jason Reeves) and “Forgiving Me, Forgiving You,” (with Darrell Brown), imbued with a plaintive understanding.

She is backed by a spirited country-flavored quartet led by guitarist/Musical Director Andrew Doolittle with Alex Navarro on piano and keyboards, both of whom add background vocals.  They add substance to her light voice with its husky edge. Rhythmic energy is boosted by Lee Nadel on bass and Rich Mercurio on drums.

Rita Wilson’s enthusiasm for her music is evident, but a downside to the show is a sameness in sound and an overload of unknown original songs with very few that are familiar. Perhaps next time, the mix might be more balanced.  It could be a risk, but one worth taking.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Cabaret Scenes
September 25, 2014