Cabaret Review by Stephen Hanks
When is a cabaret show much more than just a cabaret show? Well, usually when-and this is rare-there is a subtext, either subtle or obvious, that defines the performance as something beyond just a singer delivering the goods. It could be a compelling theme or a particularly poignant or witty script that make a show special. Or it could be a unique chemistry and bond between the performers that can take a cabaret show to another level and render it incredibly memorable.
Currently playing at the Metropolitan Room on Friday nights through September (at 9:30 pm), Two for the Road starring singer Shaynee Rainbolt and musical director/pianist Donn Trenner is just such a show. While the pairing of Rainbolt, a critically-acclaimed jazz singer (and multiple MAC and Bistro-Award winner), with Trenner, an Emmy-nominated musical director, conductor, and arranger (who has played piano for a Hollywood Walk of Fame full of stars including Ann-Margret, Shirley MacLaine and Bob Hope) seems as close to a cabaret show slam dunk as you get, there is an intense connection between these two performers that is palpable from the moment Rainbolt wraps her luscious voice around Trenner's jazzy piano riffing for the show's opening number "Lucky to be Me" (from the 1944 Leonard Bernstein/Betty Comden/Adolph Green musical On the Town). But this particular cabaret chemistry experiment was more than a decade in the making.
Just over 11 years ago, Rainbolt had finished a show at the Plush Room in San Francisco when a much older man Shaynee had never met offered his compliments on her performance. He asked the singer if she was related to Emmy-award winning TV director Bill Rainbolt, who was Shaynee's father and who had died just a year and a half earlier. As Shaynee probed for more information on the man's connection to her late father, Rainbolt's mother Manon recognized him as old family friend Donn Trenner and leapt into his arms.
Over the next decade, Rainbolt and Trenner cultivated their friendship and after Shaynee's mom died in 2011, she began lobbying the venerable veteran musician to collaborate with her on a cabaret show. During Two for the Road, as you listen to Shaynee vocally caress Trenner's piano arrangements as if they were childhood security blankets, you can sense that she regards her accompanist as if he was a surrogate dad. Perhaps through Trenner she can even feel the presence of her parents on that stage. When Rainbolt talks about how their collaboration has been "organic," or when she rambles a bit in her patter, Trenner feigns impatience, engendering one of those "Oh, Dad," kind of looks from Shaynee before she adds, "C'mon, Donn, you love me. Admit it." Trenner offers a lovingly paternal grin and continues playing.
If that wasn't enough of a "familial" connection-to use another of Rainbolt's words during the show-two of Shaynee's most effective songs in the set are Cole Porter's "Down in the Depths on the 90th Floor" and Trenner's first original composition "Memory of the Rain" (written 68 years ago when he was just 17), both of which were recorded in 1955 by Trenner's wife, singer Helen Carr, whose voice was like a cross between Billie Holiday and Doris Day (and who died in 1960 at age 36; that's Trenner at the piano and Carr is at left in photo). One can only imagine what is going through Trenner's mind as he listens to his surrogate daughter Shaynee bring those songs-and his late wife-back to life. (Please click on Page 2 below to continue.)