Dorian Rush has proven to be quite successful singing the songs of female performers of note. Her "Livin' Janis" tribute show to the late Janis Joplin snagged her a Big Easy Award for Best Cabaret in 2009 and, more recently, she partnered with Lisa Picone in the very successful Carole King homage, "The Queens of King" earlier this year.
Now starring in "True Blue Bayou" at the Allways Theatre, Rush tackles the channeling of Linda Ronstadt, a woman whose recording career has spanned five decades and who is the most diverse American singer in history. It is a daunting challenge to be able to cover so many different styles of music including folk, rock, country, operetta, Cajun French and Spanish. But the real challenge in covering a show of this type is to have the pipes to carry off the songs and to do so with finesse.
In this respect Rush is absolutely fearless. She delves into each song with a ferocity and a delight that distinguishes this tribute show as one not to miss. It is her pure ecstasy on stage emulating her musical idol that enhances "True Blue Bayou" and draws the audience enthusiastically into the performance.
The two-hour plus presentation has Rush going through a series of costume and wig changes in order to capture the essence of Ronstadt, a woman whose various-staged professional career has resulted in gold and platinum sales of over 100 million albums, 11 Grammys, an Emmy Award, nominations for a Tony and Golden Globe Awards and a recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
After beginning the night with crowd pleaser "It's So Easy," Rush gives an historical glimpse into Ronstadt's family life. She speaks about her brainy parents, who forged her love of Mexican and Spanish songs as a youngster growing up in Arizona. Rush's bold choice of "Roganciano Guapangeuro" is culled from Ronstadt's repertoire, especially that influenced by her great aunt Luisa Espinel, an internationally acclaimed singer,whose booklet on Mexican songs "Canciones de mi Padre" was used by Ronstadt as the title for an entire album of Mexican songs and led to two other Spanish language albums ("Mas Canciones" and "Frenesi").
Rush takes the audience on a musical journey with songs as the stepping posts in Rondstadt's life. She rapidly moves through "Different Drum," her first hit with The Stone Poneys, and then moves into folk-rock classics like "Long Long Time" and "Desperado." By the time the first half of the show ends, she has moved into country rock ("When Will I Be Loved?") and hard rock standards like "You're No Good."
Following intermission she tackles Ronstadt's incursion into Gilbert and Sullivan and plays the role of Mabel from "The Pirates of Penzance." While Rush's voice is quite comfortable in rock, country and folk genres, she does display a bit of hesitancy with regards to operatic requirements. While she may lack some embellishments a leading soprano might attain, she does carry off the role quite well.
A surprise for audience members is her taking on the translation of "The Sweetest Gift," a trio originally sung by Ronstadt with Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris. By the time the second half is near conclusion, Rush has moved into the latter stage of Ronstadt's career including the Academy Award nominated song "Somewhere Out There" and "Don't Know Much," one of several duets she scored Grammy Awards for Best Duos with New Orleans vocalist Aaron Neville.
Before she finishes the show with the Roy Orbison-penned classic "Blue Bayou," Rush brings audience members up to date about the retired singer, who has been stricken since 2011 with Parkinson's Disease and is no longer capable of singing.
Rush is joined on stage by drummer Michael Sollars, guitarist Gavin MacArthur and bass player Brandon Brunious. All three contribute backing vocals to Rush to enhance her powerful chords.
This is a a show that will truly be loved by audiences of all ages and is a multi-media presentation with graphics and other enhancements aded by Patrick Flynn. With great musicianship, dazzling vocals and sparkling repartee with the audience, "True Blue Bayou" has much to be admired and should not be missed.
Producer Jonathan Mares, who was also responsible for "The Queens of King," envisioned "True Blue Bayou" as part of an ambitious plan to bring audiences to the Allways Theatre for several musical endeavors. Along with partner Kris Shaw, Mares serves as the artistic producer at the Allways Theatre and knows New Orleans crowds have always loved every imaginable musical styling to ever come down the pike. This show will be followed by a playwright Tracy Letts' "Bug," which opens next month and then by yet another musically themed full production. This time it will be a Donna Summers tribute show starring Anais St. John.
(True Blue Bayou continues at the Allways Theatre, 1030 Marigny Street, tonight through Saturday, July 26. Performances are at 8:00 p.m. and $1.00 of every ticket sold goes toward Parkinson's Disease research. To order tickets call 504-215-5778.)