A bit of Broadway, a little cabaret, and some palate-cleansing jazz. Put it all together and you’ve got the debut album of Donna Vivino, Beautiful Dreamer. The singer, who made her Broadway debut as the Young Cosette in the original cast production Les Miserables at all of eight years of age, has blossomed into a stylish songstress who, if her performance on this album is any indication, can sell a song with her sensitive phrasing and subtle musicality without a constant resort to the ubiquitous diva belt.
Backed up brilliantly by a quartet featuring her father Jerry on flute, alto flute, tenor sax and clarinet, Mitchel Forman, who did the arrangements, on piano and keyboards, Kevin Axt on both upright bass and acoustic bass guitar, and Ray Brinker on drums and percussion, she works her way through 13 tunes from Broadway and the Great American Songbook, with an outlier or two thrown in for good measure, making her own personal statement with each.
Vivino takes an old standby like “Over the Rainbow,” and if she doesn’t quite give it the complete overhaul, a la Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, the singer transforms it via a cool jazz approach that gives the song a lively new groove. She takes her voice to where the song is.
There is a real longing in her vocal at the beginning of “My Romance,” and a strength to her “I Wish You Love.” Her “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” resonates with the sultriness of a torch song, while her vocal on Randy Newman’s “When She Loved Me” is nigh unto angelic.
What must be her signature song, “Castle on a Cloud,” is here, but it is “Castle on a Cloud” as you’ve not heard it before. The voice has the sweetness of an eight-year-old, but not much of the innocence. The jazz rhythms of Forman’s arrangement give it a whole new feel. Her version of The Carpenters’ “Rainy Days and Mondays” is a tad sexier than the original, but when she sings Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “How Insensitive,” she almost seems to be channeling Astrud Gilberto.
“Never Never Land” is a bit treacly for my taste, although there is a swinging piano solo between the vocals that moves it in a better direction for a few bars. On the other hand, “Beautiful Dreamer,” the ancient Stephen Foster confection which could come across as even more sentimental and sappy, gets a simple bare bones treatment that lends it some truly honest emotion. The arrangement on this one is credited to Jerry Vivino.
Judging by her work on Beautiful Dreamer, Donna Vivino, who sings with the kind of honest emotion that is bound to captivate a live audience, is no less captivating in recording. She is one beautiful dreamer to be reckoned with.