MaryMonica Thomas & Quartet
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MaryMonica Thomas & Quartet

Band Jazz Adult Contemporary


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"Howard Reich Review of MaryMonica Thomas' award-winning show "Sepia Tones: The Music of Dorothy Dandridge""

Romanticized in feature films, scrutinized in books and analyzed in documentaries, Dorothy Dandridge remains a source of seemingly endless fascination in American culture.
But the latest venture about her life and career may be the most intimate, for the great performer seems to be just a few feet away from her audience in "Sepia Tones: The Music of Dorothy Dandridge," a haunting cabaret show that opened Wednesday night at Davenport's.
Though singer MaryMonica Thomas evidently has studied practically every facet of Dandridge's life, this is no mere impersonation. Thomas is too strong a vocalist and too charismatic a performer to mimic the style of a woman whose work she obviously admires.
Instead, Thomas cleverly has conceived an evening that alternates tunes Dandridge sang with spoken vignettes about her life. To hear the bittersweet story punctuated by searing performances of Dandridge's repertoire is to view (rapidly) the arc of Dandridge's life. And though the saga of a woman who goes from rags to riches to rags is a familiar one, the voluptuousness of Thomas' alto and the vividness of her presentation often galvanize a live audience as Dandridge herself must have done.
To her credit, Thomas has not fashioned this show as a lecture on the well-documented racism of the film industry in Dandridge's era (the 1930s through the '50s) but, rather, as a celebration of the star's achievements. By reflecting on the racial barriers Dandridge shattered and the glorious music she left behind, Thomas avoids the pathos that often accompanies such retrospectives. Yet Thomas doesn't censor the grim facts: the exploitative relatives, abusive husbands and callous studio system that often made Dandridge's journey hellish.
And when Thomas sings the great ballads of Dandridge's repertoire, taking tempos slowly and lingering on every phrase, the songs convey a depth of emotion worthy of Dandridge's story. Most gripping are Thomas' mournful account of "Body and Soul," phrased as elegantly as one might hope to hear it, and her soaring version of "I Loves You Porgy" (from the opera "Porgy and Bess"), sung with a panache that classical vocalists would be hard-pressed to match.
Granted, Thomas still has some fine-tuning to do. Most important, she needs to polish her delivery of spoken material and refrain from over-selling some songs in a room this small.
Yet she and her inspired music director, pianist Dan Stetzel, have devised an evening worthy of its subject, and that's no small feat.
- Chicago Tribune

"Sepia Tones review"

Subject: "Sepia Tones" review
by Jeff Rossen

Five months before her birth, Dorothy Jean Dandridge's mother, Ruby, left her father, Cyrus, and took Dorothy's sister, Vivian, to start a new life away from her mother-in-law's house in a home she could truly call her own. Following Dorothy's birth, a friend of Ruby's moved in with them, and it was under the watchful eye of Geneva Williams -- who the girls did not know was also their mother's lover that the natural talent that Vivian and Dorothy exhibited soon looked to the older women to be a possible ticket to a more luxurious life. The girls, with Geneva at the keyboard and mama Ruby acting as their business manager, became The Wonder Children and were soon a popular attraction in the South. When Ruby decided that there were better opportunities for her daughters to make it big in Hollywood, the foursome moved west, and when a dancing school friend of the sisters was added to act, the trio became The Dandridge Sisters. A new manager got the act bookings at various theatres in the area, and then the girls got their first big break when they landed an uncredited role in The Big Broadcast of 1936. An offer from the celebrated Cotton Club in New York followed, and it was there that Dorothy's future as an entertainer was solidified. In 1999, HBO presented an excellent biopic about the woman who would become the first African-American to be nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. And in an odd coincidence straight out of a Hollywood backstage drama, the actress who portrayed Dandridge on the small screen went on to become the first African-American to win the Best Actress Oscar, Halle Berry. Dandridge's life story made for great movie bio fodder -- poor inner-city kid rises to show biz heights amid a personal life filled with heartbreak and self-destruction -- and viewers were given a solid dose of Dandridge's musical legacy. But one's focus was guided more to the drama of Dandridge's life, and it was easy to let that become the lingering impression one took away from the viewing. And now, nearly 37 years after her death, the musical legacy of Dorothy Dandridge is mostly unknown of by a whole generation. But that sad fact is being altered on Wednesday evenings this month at Davenport's, where MaryMonica Thomas is performing what is certainly one of the year's most evocative and luminous creations, "Sepia Tones: The Music of Dorothy Dandridge." Backed by a superb four-piece combo -- musical director Dan Stetzel on piano, Robert Reddrick on percussion, Mike Torti on horns and Doug Turley on bass -- Thomas delivers a double-whammy in her dynamic hour-plus survey of Dandridge's songbook: Not only does she bring back to life a baker's dozen of the "Sepia Diva's" (as Dandridge was known on the club circuit) songs, Thomas offers a sublimely intoxicating performance that reveals an artist of extraordinary range and skill that we thought we seen but obviously have only glimpsed before. Exploding with the opening Swing for Your Supper (from a 1941 "soundie," what might be thought of as the equivalent of an early form of music videos) and segueing between the breathy sultriness of I Didn't Know What Time It Was (punctuated by Torti's sexy sax line) and classical air of I Loves You Porgy (in which Thomas delivers a richly textured and seductively nuanced performance that would shame many a opera diva), Thomas takes the audience on an intricately researched journey through Dandridge's life and career, illustrating the story line with the woman's music. But what sets Thomas and her tribute apart from many other similarly constructed shows is that each musical selection seems to flow quite naturally out of the narrative, never once seeming out of place or anything but perfectly suited for the moment. This represents a remarkable accomplishment of painstaking precision on the part of Thomas, who says she's been working on this show for seven years with Stetzel. It's been a long journey indeed but one that culminates in a perfect match of performer and material that, like the meeting of Gail Becker and Betty Hutton earlier this year, is one of the sweetest pairings we're likely to witness. Although she began to loathe performing in clubs in the later years of her career, when bankruptcy brought on by a husband who abused her physically and destroyed her finances turned what was once a joyous part of her life into work, it was in a nightclub that the true talent of Dorothy Dandridge overflowed; and in that same setting, MaryMonica Thomas and her "Sepia Tones" splendor paint a glorious portrait of the artist remembered and the artist at hand. (****) Gay Chicago Magazine -- Issue #02-25
- Gay Chicago Magazine


Still working on that hot first release.



MaryMonica has over twenty years of event experience; performing, working with musicians, and managing entertainment. She's performed for audiences at The Intercontinental, Drury Lne Water Tower and Oakbrook, The Skokie Theater, The Park West, The Plush Room in SanFrancisco, the Duplex in NYC, Le Meridian Hotel, Windsor's Cigar Lounge at the Palmer House Hilton, the Odyssey Dinner Cruise ship, the Mercury and Royal George Theatres, and more. She has performed at countless weddings, corporate events, private parties, festivals, and more.
Marymonica has charmed audiences with music and song and became the winner of the "After Dark" award for 2002 Outstanding Cabaret Artist for Sepia Tones: The Music of Dorothy Dandridge. As a result, she was then asked to perform her show at Symphony Center for Chicago's prestigious Humanities Festival 2003, which she did to a sold out house and standing ovation. She's an active member of 3Girls3, the vocal harmony group honored as the "best of the best" cabaret shows in Chicago for 2000 by Cabaret Scenes Magazine. Her band performs versatile setlist with a strong foundation in jazz standards and latin jazz.

"Thomas has never been about just meeting audience expectations" - Misha Davenport, Chicago Sun-Times

"...the voluptuousness of Thomas' alto and the vividness of her presentation galvanize a live audience" - Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune

"Thomas offers a sublimely intoxicating performance that reveals an artist of extraordinary range and skill that we thought we had seen, but obviously have only glimpsed before" - Jeff Rossen, Gay Chicago Magazine and Cabaret Scenes Magazine

"Through the course of the night Thomas will seduce you, entertain you, amuse you, and inspire you" - Paul Barile, Chicago Arts and Entertainment

"Most gripping are Thomas mournful account of 'Body and Soul', phrased as elegantly as one might hope to hear it"..."and her soaring version of 'I Loves you Porgy', sung with a panache that classical vocalists would be hard-pressed to match" - Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune