From the 1930s through the ’50s, Latin American music was all the rage in the United States, when the strains of cha-cha, Son cubano and bossa nova filled posh nightclubs. Bella Latina, presented by the Cabaret at the Columbia Club in downtown Indianapolis Friday, was a nostalgic journey back to that romantic era.
Produced by ISIS of Indiana, an organization that seeks to promote women in music, Bella Latina featured vocalists Heather Ramsey, Stacie Sandoval and Elizabeth Souza.
They were accompanied by an all-female band consisting of Natalie Boeyink on bass, Shawn Goodman on clarinet and sax and Colleen Haas on drums and percussion. They were led by music director Monika Herzig on piano.
Also participating were Brazilian dancer Ana Lucia Cavalcante and tap dancer Allana Radecki, who was referred to as a “foot percussionist.”
Though there were several fine solo performances, including those of Herzig, Goodman and Haas, the band as a whole proved to be the show’s weakest link. During its instrumental performances and tepid interpretations of “Armando’s Rhumba” and “Loro,” the ensemble lacked energy and was slow in tempo and attack.
On the plus side, the show’s strongest feature was the three attractive vocalists, all of whom had considerable stage presence. They displayed strong vocal abilities and showed versatility in interpreting the program’s music, which was top heavy on Brazilian standards.
Sandoval, who is of Cuban origin (and lead vocalist and founder of Orquesta Bravo!, a local band), was particularly appealing in her sensual renditions of “Sway” (“¿Quién será?”), a 1953 mambo song by Mexican composer and bandleader Pablo Beltrán Ruiz, and “Son de la Loma,” a Son cubano tune.
Also captivating was Brazilian born Souza, who performed “O Amo Em Paz,” (“Once I Loved”), by Antonio Carlos Jobim, and “Coisinha Do Pal” with soulful authenticity.
ISIS co-founder Ramsey, was striking in her interpretation of Sergio Mendes’ “So Many Stars” and his signature song, “Mas Que Nada.”
Wearing a feathered boa and headdress and dressed in bangles and beads, as if she were appearing in Rio’s Carnaval, belly dancer Lucia joined the three singers at the close of Act One when they sang “Samba di Orfea” from the 1959 Brazilian film “Black Orpheus.”
A native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Cavalcante, who performs in local restaurants and other venues, was alluringly demure as she shimmied and shook her hips to the driving samba beat.
At the end of the show the vocalists, who by then were all wearing feathered headdresses, were led by Haas on a conga drum, as they ventured out into the audience, singing “Brazil,” one of that country’s best-known songs.
Though joined by a only a few audience members in a conga line, the performers nevertheless engaged and delighted those who remained at their tables shaking maracas and other noisemakers provided them.
ISIS is to be commended for its important efforts in fostering women in music and for producing Bella Latina, the second in a series of three (the next is Femme Blu Festival on Sept. 30) presented this season by the Cabaret.
Meant to celebrate Latin music, history and culture, Bella Latina, though entertaining, might have been more successful had its program, meant to showcase musical styles, been more diverse.
Another shortcoming was the band’s performance, which lacked the very dynamism that characterizes Latin American music at its best.
For tickets and information about the remainder of the Cabaret at the Columbia Club 2011 season, call (317) 279-1169 or visit www.thecabaret.org.