To shift the focus away from a beloved song's gangly teenage drive, like taking "West Side Story's" iconic "Something's Coming" and singing it rubato, is almost unheard of. Putting the emphasis on this song's seldom attended to lyrics is a coup in and of itself, and at this
point, the top of the show, you indeed know that "Something's Coming": Anne Kerry Ford, and she's "Something Wonderful".
Sondheim wrote "Something's Coming" at 27 with Leonard Bernstein, a task Stephen didn't relish, according to Anne's retelling. On this
evening we were regaled with stories of one of the Grandfathers of the Modern American Musical, Oscar Hammerstein II, and his unusual meeting and eventual influence on another inimitable composer, Stephen Sondheim. Anne Kerry Ford's obvious love of their words and music and only somewhat reverential service to their separate masterpieces makes her our perfect guide.

Anne is a wonder in and of herself. An advanced student, she made her way into Juilliard at the age of 16, later found herself on Broadway, and in the international cabaret world. Anne has an unusually distinct, honest, folk-tinged timbre to her vocal instrument, which she plays unassumingly and with an authenticity that is all her own. Add to this an ethereal, glowing presence wrapped around a tall, goddess-on-earth physical package, and voila! A radiant star is born, ours for the price of admission.

Now did I mention the girl has brains? Anne Kerry Ford has consistently brought out the most sophisticated shows featuring our greatest songwriters, most notably those in the American Songbook, and the likes of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, to mention a few. She
researches and writes these shows herself, and she has traveled far and wide with them. On this evening, Anne enumerated the meeting of the two titular creatives. Oscar was Steve's mentor and surrogate father from age 12. Her telling of their emerging bond blossomed into that rare opening number which sprang from the stage play, "Green Grow the Lilacs", "Oh What a Beautiful Morning", from the history-making "Oklahoma". Anne Kerry Ford gave us a lackadaisical country accent on this solo, showing such simple beauty in motion, her own private reverie, lazing back in the lyric, making it come alive in that way where every word counts, putting a fresh spin on it. This was the first song Oscar ever wrote with Richard Rodgers, his most prolific writingpartner.

Combining both the composers' personal lives and America's showtune history, Anne led us to her next revelation, the comedic "I'm One of God's Children". This was Anne in rare form, with her Betty Boop ditziness meeting her Shirley Temple forthrightness. "I'm one of God's children who hasn't got wings", she opines, and she really gives it every bit of gusto she's got! With pursed lips and comedic poses (arms down at her sides, hands out, for example), Anne "shivers" to set up a phrase. Cute, funny and original, Anne's vaudevillian take on this ditty from "Showboat", the first musical that integrated storyline with music, is classic and pure gold.

Leaning on the piano, Anne illuminated "Bill", and she affably conveyed her regard for this title character. Expressive, dropdead sincere, real and throwing it all away, every line, she innocently wins the day. Well done, Anne. More patter followed about our two heroes, and the miracle of their first meeting being nothing short of biblical in proportions. The power of their link up was so strong, that if Oscar had been a geologist, maybe Stephen would have become one, too. So much fascinating history, you wonder how Anne made it all fit into one show so economically.

Anne gave us "Broadway Baby" from Sondheim's "Follies" to show the obvious connection, and her stylized flapper-era trill was thrilling, sprawling her arms out in a big finale. At this point Anne chose to unfold some particularly interesting tidbits from their two work histories. Songwise, her choice was a personal favorite of mine, "The Folks Who Live On the Hill", by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein. Anne sang this love story ballad seated on a stool, yet ladylike. Reclining at times with her hand in back of her, punching it up with the occasional standing up, or a deep breath and a smile. It's the little things that matter most, sometimes.

"Marry Me a Little" was given an original spin by Anne on this night,
with unique gestures conjuring up her powers, keeping our eyes glued on her. Her reedy upper register was strong and right on target for this song. More exposition was inlaid, leading up to the revelation that
Oscar Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim never collaborated together on a show or a single tune, so Anne put this 2-song medley together. First came the seldom heard "All Through the Day" from the film "Centennial Summer", by Oscar, where Anne, poised like a ballerina, gave us the verse and all. Then "Johanna" from Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd", originally written for a male voice, with unchanged pronouns, Anne cried out the lyric in places, subtly and poetically catching her key light in somber moments.

A high point of the night had to be Miss Ford's rendition of the ultimate ingenue's delight, "Mr. Snow", from "Carousel", by Rodgers and Hammerstein. With a slight vocal affectation, Anne conveyed true joy and elation at the prospect of marrying this fishy conquest! She had so many unique moments special to only her repertoire of tics and inclinations, summing up a very sweet and affectionate love letter to "Mr. Snow". Anne's "Vodka" is very entertaining, as she practically gets you drunk yourself just watching this Hammerstein and Harbach concoction.

The last chunk of the show starting with a choice from "A Little Night Music" was filled with illuminating insights and anecdotes about our two composers. Most fascinating was the bold fact that these two didn't exactly have it easy, writing only hits and having their day in the sun. Oscar went through an 11-year dry spell after "Showboat", before he met Richard Rodgers. Sondheim's "Anyone Can Whistle" closed after 9 performances! "Merrily We Roll Along" closed after 13 performances. So we learn that even the greats have their setbacks. Anne's "Move On" is well-placed here, asking us plainly to accept what is, noble and well-intentioned, unadorned and truthful. Anne's eyes tell so much, so inclusive to her audience and generous spirited.

Anne Kerry Ford said it so well in her final moments onstage, which I can only paraphrase here. "The craft and genius of these songs is so insightful to the human heart, and what it means to be a human being on the planet. I know that what they've written is true." Anne dove right into Sondheim's "Being Alive", taking the verse rubato, like her opener, finding the song before our eyes. It's like I never heard the line, "Somebody crowd me with love" before. Standing with her arms behind her, tender and true, she gently emitted the final "Being Alive", and it was very Anne Kerry Ford, folks. You heard umpteen "Brava's" and thunderous applause before the encore.

Of course, what else could it be but "Something Wonderful" from "The King and I", such a delicate understanding of a troublesome lover. Anne demonstrated extraordinary vocal placement on this tune, which is rangy and difficult like its subject. She gave us fortunates another entry with "Anyone Can Whistle's" "With So Little To Be Sure Of". Her thanks were genuine, and her "It was marvelous to know you" was just a stupendous statement. Needless, to say, I am an "Anne fan", and this show is an example of how good cabaret can get when its done with love and care and style and conviction and a lot of hard work. Repeatedly.

John Boswell is a rock, and Anne is both smart and lucky to have him. Log on to www.annekerryford.com for Anne's latest showdates and bookings.

-Gina Zollman Beverly Hills Outlook 6/04