By: Nicole Itkin
Miss Maybell and the Jazz Age Artistes everyone!
Lead singer Miss Maybell (Lauren Sansaricq, a multi-talented singer and painter) walks out on stage, sparkles covering her body: silver dress, silver headband, silver shoes. She stands under the lights– a smoky mix of pink, blue, and red– colors lightly reflected off of her outfit.
She takes the mic, greets us, and sings. Soon, her band joins in. From the first note, the first song, it’s clear how the evening is going to go: lively, spirited, fun; the music lifts on its own, runs towards us, happy to see us.
The band feels tied to another time– they mostly sing songs from 1899-1929– and I’m thrilled to let them take me there.
The band started as a duo: Lauren Sansaricq as the vocalist and Charlie Judkins on piano. They’re joined by Brian Nalepka on bass and backing vocals, Dan Levinson on sax and clarinet, and Andy Stein on violin. Lauren gives warm and detailed accounts of the accomplishments of everyone on stage. She introduces Judkins as a talented traditional jazz practitioner, Nalepka as a former Broadway star in “Crazy for You,” Levinson, as an “internationally wanted” reedman, Stein, as a founding member of Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen and a Grammy award winner.
The back and forth between the members on stage in-between songs is short but lively. In particular, the comradery and love between Lauren and Charlie is clear from the beginning of the show. In introducing song “When I March in April with May,” Lauren tells us that it’s special to her because she’s getting married in two weeks– to Charlie. She smiles to audible cheers from the audience. Having lined that song with that additional meaning, she proceeds to sing.
Her voice is rich, deep, questioning, cheery. She sings with her eyes. Every word careens into my blood, swirling round and round in being-chasen-by-a-crazed-dog circles.
It’s impossible to not be sucked in, to not want to get closer; I remember thinking: I’m getting up! I’m dancing! Well, I’m… not. Where we’re sitting, the cozy downstairs space at The Birdland Theatre, is very much a packed, sit-down-and-watch space. I sit, restrained, eating my pita chips with spinach and artichoke dip (delicious, might I add). But mentally, I’m dancing. In my head? Twirling.
“Forget my morals along the corals,” Lauren sings. I’m happy to.
The performance is warm, so completely enveloping that it’s almost constricting– I’ll set the scene: imagine feeling totally relaxed with a snake wrapped around you. Yes, their notes reach to the moon and bring you back with them, an exhilarating trip in so short a time.
It’s glittery and glam; I close my eyes and I’m falling backwards in time, through time periods, into and out of outfits, until I finally land where I’m supposed to be: lying on a couch in the 1920s, frills on the windows, a hot drink in my hand. It’s cold outside, but there’s a fire raging inside– the contrast sharp, the joy immediate.
There’s the visual and the reality. The day, the modern one in 2023, was actually hot, right in the middle of July. However, for all I knew, the visuals I had in my mind were all that existed– I hadn’t walked quite a few sweaty blocks, had never been crushed in throngs of tourists, had only ever sat in total comfort, listening to songs equal in warmth to the imaginary fire before me.
It was a stunning evening of tributes (some serious, some not): giving nods to the ghost down the block and to love.
Each of the members of their bands had one song choice that was entirely theirs. Stein remarked that their song choices ranged from “the sublime to the ridiculous”– maybe, but regardless of where it landed on the spectrum every song was fun.
What do mermaids and Coney Island have in common? Water, yes, but also a remarkable set.
A ring of the bell into the microphone: ding. And Miss Maybell steps off stage into the arms of her fans. Indeed, there was quite a line to see her after the show– one I admit I was in.
Put Your Arms Around Me Honey
Oh Boy What A Girl
Coney Island Washboard
Down in Dear Old New Orleans
Back to Birmingham
Bye bye / Hello
When I March in April with May
Spring Fever [Charlie’s solo]
Ain’t She Sweet
I Used to Sigh For The Silvery Moon
Hula Lou [Andy’s Song]
Big Night Tonight
Minnie the Mermaid
Down in Honky Tonky Town
Encore– Somebody’s Been Using that Thing
Miss Maybell and the Jazz Age Artistes Musicians: Lauren Sansaricq on vocals, washboard, Charlie Judkins on piano, Brian Nalepka on bass and backing vocals, Dan Levinson on sax and clarinet, and Andy Stein on violin.