Frank Wildhorn is not a household name, at least not yet. Clint Holmes is Las Vegas’ favorite son, at least in the field of popular music. Jane Monheit is without question one of the best female jazz singers alive.
The three teamed up Saturday for a satisfying and entertaining show at Cabaret Jazz, upstairs at The Smith Center. Wildhorn appeared to be the captain, but in fact everyone shared pretty equally.
Constant trade-offs kept the show going for 90 fast-moving minutes, with Wildhorn plotting the course unobtrusively from the piano bench.
That’s as it should be, since all of the music and many of the lyrics performed came from his creative mind, or in collaboration with other equally talented wordsmiths, most notable among them Jack Murphy.
Wildhorn is the creative force behind such musicals as “Jekyll and Hyde,” (four years on Broadway),“The Scarlet Pimpernel” and “The Civil War,” among others perhaps not as successful.
Not limited to shows, he has also produced songs for major stars, including the late Whitney Houston.
His first comments had to do with the spectacle that is The Smith Center.
With a broad sweep of his arm he called the 240-seat Cabaret Jazz a “cathedral for jazz,” a comparison to the many New York clubs whose ceiling heights barely allow enough headroom for tall folks.
For openers, crowd favorite Holmes and Monheit, the new “toast of New York,” took the stand for a couple of duets, including an opener that sounded much like “Moondance” — but wasn’t. Then the two took turns at center stage with an occasional duet thrown in.
Holmes showed his usual rich baritone and exceptional sensitivity to lyrics. Monheit’s technique seemed effortless, and she, too, communicated lyrics clearly. But as the evening moved on, it became apparent she gradually stole the show.
She exhibited her extraordinary vocal range and control in “I’ll Forget You” and her dramatic range came through in the poignant “Someone Like You.” A nearby audience member whispered, “She’s a storyteller.”
That she is, and in a quietly dramatic way. Words count most to each of these stars, and the audience wins because of it.
Holmes left the audience silent and breathless with “Letter to Sarah,” which Wildhorn discovered while searching through Civil War memorabilia. It is a great piece of open heart disclosure, and Clint made the most of both text and music.
The aforementioned Murphy carried the lion’s share of the text load.
His exceptional treatments of “Not Gonna Fail This Time,” “Why Do People Fall in Love” and “Easy” asked important questions and gave important answers in quiet and understandable terms.
While both Holmes and Monheit can hold their own in the jazz arena, there was no real opportunity to show off those skills. Virtually every tune on the playlist was a ballad, perhaps a beautiful ballad, but a ballad nevertheless.
Before the show Smith Center President and CEO Myron Martin played emcee to alert the audience that we were hosting not one but two TV crews. He asked us to be especially quiet, apologized for any inconvenience the crews might cause as they went about their work, and warned there would be no food or beverage service after the show began.
It turns out one crew was from Vegas PBS and another was an independent from Los Angeles.
It appears the aim is for collaboration with The Smith Center on a project — or projects — not yet fully defined.