Notes from the Great American Songbook

PETERBOROUGH HISTORICAL SOCIETY: A weekend of musical performances

Jennifer Sheehan is a rising star in a genre not often heard in the Monadnock region. She’s a cabaret singer, performing popular music by a wide range of American composers and telling the stories behind the songs she is singing, creating a mix of music and theater in an intimate atmosphere.

Sheehan will be bringing her show, titled “You Made Me Love You – Celebrating 100 Years of the Great American Songbook,” to Bass Hall in
Peterborough on Saturday to kick off the new season of Electric Earth concerts.

“I love this show,” Sheehan said in a phone
interview on Monday. “It has a ton of variety. The inspiration I had was to learn the origins of what’s called the Great American Songbook. I came across what was kind of the landmark song: “Some of These Days,” made famous by Sophie Tucker. It was
recorded around 1912.”

That date inspired Sheehan to put together a show celebrating 100 years of American music. In her own words and through the lyrics of the songs, audiences learn how the music has evolved over the past
century.

“In this show, we cover everything from those early songs to the ones by the titans — Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, the Gershwins,” Sheehan said. “We also do songs from the ’40s through the ’60s, by people like Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer. And I like to finish by spotlighting some of the newer writers, like John Bucchino and Adam Guettel, who happens to be the grandson of Richard Rodgers. We cover such a variety of music; it’s got some of the classics that people will know and love and also some newer gems.”

Sheehan, who now lives in New York City, grew up in St. Louis and went to her first cabaret show when she was 13, where she heard Andrea Marcovicci, the noted cabaret performer who performed for years in the Oak Room at New York’s Algonquin Hotel.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Sheehan said. “I really fell in love with the medium. She was able to interact with the audience, which is a trademark of cabaret. About a year later, I had a chance to sing for her. I’m not quite sure what possessed me to do it, but she invited me to her dressing room and told me she thought I really had a gift.”

Sheehan attended the Juilliard School in New York City, where she studied in the voice program.

“It’s primarily classical and I loved the education I got,” she said. “I found myself drawn to the Great American Songbook. That was my real forte. So I’ve been in New York ever since I graduated in 2007, doing cabaret and musical theater.

She said she loves telling the stories behind the songs.

“Cabaret is a mixture of music and theater. It’s not just about singing one song after another. Part of the joy is researching the songs and I weave my own narrative through the show.”

Sheehan has received glowing reviews from critics in New York, where she has performed regularly at Feinstein’s at the Loews Regency and the Metropolitan Room. Reviewing one of her shows, Stephen Holden of the New York Times wrote, “The beauty of Ms. Sheehan’s voice is refreshingly unvarnished and devoid of circus tricks. Drawing from a deep well of feeling, she interprets lyrics from the point of view of someone who knows who she is and conveys empathy in a voice that glows with insight.”

Sheehan will be accompanied by James Followell on piano and Jared Egan on bass. Egan, who has played at Monadnock Music classical performances, recommended Sheehan to Laura Gilbert and Jonathan Bagg, who organize the Electric Earth series.

“We thought it would be nice to start the season with something celebratory,” Bagg said last week. “We hope to recreate a bit of the atmosphere of the Algonquin. People can get in out of the cold. We’ll probably have a little champagne, make a toast, then sit and hear a wonderful concert.”

Sheehan hopes that someone in her audience might respond just as she did when she first heard Marcovicci.

“Once people hear this music, they love it,” she said. “I’m trying to introduce the older audience to the newer writers and a newer generation of listeners to music they may ever have heard. This show for me is all about bringing this music to younger generations.”

The concert will be at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Peterborough Historical Society. Tickets are $30 ($20 in advance). For reservations, contact Electric Earth Concerts at eeconcerts@gmail.com or call 593-5245.

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