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I am writing this while still coming down from a Molly Ringwald jazz charisma contact high.
The CenterStage Foundation dinner party held yesterday evening at the art-filled home of Dr. Pamela J. Royal and Richmond Circuit Court Judge C.N. Jenkins Jr. proved quite enjoyable. The hot jazz for the cool evening provided by pianist Larri Branch and standup bass playerBrian Cruse enveloped and complemented the place, the moment and Chez Foushee’s repast.
Well known for her acting, Ringwald is in Richmond with artistic collaborator Peter Smith through Feb. 17 for a series of concerts at theRhythm Hall of CenterStage, an intimate setting for their presentation of not-heard-all-the-time chanteuse-style songs of love, loss and longing. Their new CD, Except … Sometimes, gets its official Los Angeles release in April, and thus begins a world-girdling tour.
CenterStage executive director Richard M. Parison Jr. introduced the evening, speaking of the organization’s efforts to reach into the community and its educational aspect, the Genworth Bright Lights program.
Then it was time for Ringwald, Smith and a Sammy Cahn tune, “I Fall in Love Too Easily.” “That could’ve been my theme song for my teens, my 20s aaand even my 30s,” Ringwald said afterward, her smile acknowledging what any of us who’ve gotten that far before in the pursuit of romance understands. “But now I’m a happily married mother of three.” And then she introduced what to her is one of the most romantic songs ever written, from the Allan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musical My Fair Lady, Freddy’s ballad to his love for Eliza, "On the Street Where You Live."
“Except we swing it,” she said, and they proceeded to do just that.
She and Smith met in 2004 while in the cast of Daniel Goldfarb’s play Modern Orthodox. “We somehow didn’t get around to talking about music until the wrap party,” Smith told me. “And then, there was a piano, and she sang, and it was obvious we should do something.” That something became the Here It Comesalbum.
At one point, Ringwald came and stood against the wall, listening to Branch and Cruse, and I noticed her pumps, which looked painful to me. A chair was provided and she sat, rocking her foot in time to the music. Holding a glass of red wine, she looked to be enjoying it as much as I was. Then she rose, Smith came over and they discussed their next number, a Billie Holiday tune titled "You’re Mean to Me," in B flat. The whole room vanished in Ringwald's voice, the music and the plaintive emotion behind the song. At the end, flushed, she smiled, lifted her glass and said, “Carry on.”
Folllwing her performance, we chatted. I mentioned that in March, Richmond Shakespeare is presenting The Tempest. This received the “Ah, yes!” I'd hoped for, as Paul Mazursky's film adaptation of the play was her first screen role, at 14 years old. It's a movie that has stuck with me ever since I saw it in the theater. I wondered about the cave where Raul Julia, as Kalabanos, tried seducing Ringwald's Miranda by offering up his Sony Trinitron for her viewing pleasure. (Man cave, I should’ve said.) Much of the film was made on location on a small Greek peninsula amid the Peloponnesos, while the cave sequence was shot in Rome’s renowned Cinecittiá Studios. “[Mazursky] had always wanted to shoot in Italy,” Ringwald said.
Ringwald is a multihyphenate: actor-singer-author. And that troubles some people who want her to be one thing — an actor. The thing is, she grew up singing Bessie Smith tunes with a pianist father who still plays on cruise ships.
And she’s written all along, which many people realized after reading her 2009 New York Times appreciation for her mentor, John Hughes, who died suddenly at 59 of a heart attack. Then came 2010’s Getting the Pretty Back, Ringwald's early midlifememoir/summation, followed by 2012’s well-reviewed novel-in-stories, When It Happens to You. “Eventually, you don’t explain,” Ringwald said of her varied life roles. “This may sound corny, but what’s important is what you do, the action you take, how and where your talent takes you.”
It was an evening I won’t forget.