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Lori Donato: Sojourn
Mary Bogue | September 29, 2016 | 0 Comments


Lori Donato


Tom Rolla’s Gardenia, West Hollywood, CA, September 24, 2016

Reviewed by Mary Bogue for Cabaret Scenes

After 30 years in the business, singing around Los Angeles and years of criss-crossing Europe and entertaining on cruise ships, Lori Donato made her debut at the famed Gardenia. In Donato’s words, it was time to “Start the party.”

Conveying the story of her life from the formative years in South Dakota where “my life was a mess,” she left behind her career as a high school teacher and took a major leap of faith, landing her in Berlin. Along the way she ended up married, unmarried, in Sweden and the world was her stage.

She opened with “The Song Is You” (Oscar Hammerstein/Jerome Kern) and then put a Latin spin on “This Could Be the Start of Something” (Steve Allen). In grand voice and nightclub style, the statuesque Donato delivered a terrific “Woman in the Moon” (Paul Williams/Kenny Ascher) and moved seamlessly from stage to behind the piano to sing, in French, “Lili Marlene” (Norbert Schultze/Hans Leip). She tore up the house describing the men in her life with “Broken Down Kitchen Blues” (Cami Thompson) as the crowd enthusiastically whooped, hollered and applauded.

We traveled with her on her cruise ship adventures with “Rio de Janeiro Blue” (Richard Torrance/John Haeny) and a super assist from drummer Jack LeCompte. Switching gears, Rick Hils skillfully jazzed up “Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home” (Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen). A “cougar” before it was fashionable, her “Bye Bye Country Boy” (Blossom Dearie/Jack Segal) was stunning. Donato brought it all home as the audience clapped along, and she and Hils took us on a “Detour” (Paul Westmoreland). Her Duke Ellington mash-up was masterful, and the encore, “Angels on Your Pillow,” composed by the present Paul Horner (lyrics by Peggy Lee) was just heavenly.

The next stop on her journey is Palm Springs for her show at The Purple Room.

Lori Donato: A Musical Journey

Lori Donato

Lori Donato

A Musical Journey

Nethercutt Museum, Sylmar, CA, June 11, 2016

Reviewed by Mary Bogue for Cabaret Scenes

In a spectacular setting amidst the most breathtaking pianos, Wurlitzers and perfectly restored classic cars, Lori Donato brought perfect classic cabaret to a full house of those appreciating the finest items from the Nethercutt Collection. For the first time ever, it was Donato who premiered a vocal performance to their truly appreciative audience.

Setting the tone for this unique experience, Donato enthusiastically opened with an aptly titled “This Could Be the Start of Something” (Steve Allen). She was playful on Barry Manilow/Bruce Sussman’s “Meet Me, Midnight” and was joyfully connected to the lyrics of “Make Someone Happy” (Comden & Green/Styne). Donato masterfully blended storytelling and songs, with terrific assists by Rick Hils on piano, Chris Conner on bass and Kenny Elliot on drums.

Donato gave us her account of worldly travels and at-home bouts of marriage, teaching and being a chanteuse playing piano for herself over the years. She serenaded in German with “Lili Marlene” (Norbert Schultze/Hans Leip), giving a true taste of Marlene Deitrich’s life. And then, in direct contrast, she killed with “Broken-Down Kitchen Blues” as the audience wildly clapped along to Cami Thompson’s sassy song.

True to her mentor, Marilyn Maye, Donato moved effortlessly across the stage, and left instrumental solos for another day. Pure Marilyn! She was sweet and tender on the emotionally charged “You’d Better Love Me” (Hugh Martin/Timothy Gray) as she worked the audience.

Seemingly inexhaustible, she returned to a second set with perfect phrasing, sang right in her pocket, and gave a stunning interpretation of “99 Miles from L.A.” (Hal David/Albert Hammond). She tore it up on “Bye Bye Country Boy” (Blossom Dearie/Jack Segal) with great patter, piano and bass. Her Ellington mash-up showcased her sexiness, and jazzier chops. The crowd was wild for her “The Song Is You” (Oscar Hammerstein/Jerome Kern) and rewarded her deeply moving “Angels on Your Pillow” (Paul Horner/Peggy Lee) with a standing ovation. She gave a stirring encore with the title cut from her new CD Wind in My Sails (JoAnne Kurman/Sandy Sherman).

Look for Lori Donato  to bring this marvelous show to the Gardenia in Hollywood, and other venues in and out of Palm Springs. Grab a ticket, because like all those luxury items in the Nethercutt, she’s a well-seasoned classic sure to deliver ooohs and ahhhhs.

Cool Cabaret
- Bruce Fessier, The Desert Sun 2:10 p.m. PDT June 23, 2015

Cool cabaret: If Lori Donato lived in New York, she'd probably be a nationally known cabaret artist. Instead, she's a national caliber cabaret artist who spends most of her time in Southern California, enabling Coachella Valley audiences to get to enjoy her talent fairly often.

Donato has a sophisticated way of selling a lyric and she programs her shows with songs that reveal something about her, which separates her from many a lounge singer. It's been said that she's Broadway legend Carol Channing's favorite local singer-pianist and she did play Channing's 92nd birthday party two years ago. She's a regular at the legendary Oil Can Harry's in Studio City and she played the Studio One 11 Cocktail Lounge on June 12. Now she's making a return appearance.

Lori Donato, 8 p.m., Studio One 11 Cocktail Lounge, 67-555 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Cathedral City. (760) 328-2900

Donato & Leib Set February Sales Record at Sterling's Upstairs at Vitello's

- by Michael Sterling, Michael Sterling & Associates for Broadway World *

Southern California favorites Lori Donato and Gil Leib more than left their mark at Sterling's Upstairs at Vitello's in Studio City, CA last Sunday (February 28). Not only did the charismatic duo successfully premiere their all new show Shades of Blue, inspired by blues-infused songs from Gospel to Broadway and beyond, but set a February sales record at the popular night spot with a full house of adoring and enthusiastic fans, many who endured a five-day wait list for reservations.

The statuesque, glamorously suited and bejeweled Ms. Donato, effortlessly engaged the 100-plus guests with her intellectual understanding of lyrics and a gift of vocal riches found only in the likes of such great singers as Margaret Whiting, Marilyn Maye and Rosemary Clooney. In other words, it is evidently clear that sophisticated singers like these ladies are more than a valuable commodity. They are a study in how to sing a song the way it was intended to be sung by its composers. Thus, that skill not only puts Donato in the same league with Whiting, Maye and Clooney and others like them, but her performance in Shades of Blue proved why.

A much sought after musical director and arranger whose many clients have included B.B. King, Nancy Wilson and Dusty Springfield, Gil Leib's intense brand of musicality and rousing arrangements featured such hits as "Meet Me Midnight", "Blue Motel", "Greenbacks", "Summertime Blues" and a big band medley highlighted by "Movin' on Up" (the theme) from the hit TV series The Jefferson's, and "Buddy's Blues" from Stephen Sondheim's musically prolific Follies. 

Leib adroitly joined Donato for vocals on select numbers throughout the evening, as did bass player Lou Shoch, while other members of The Gil Leib Quartet were featured. Outstanding moments came from the brilliance of Tom Bethke on guitar, with riveting licks by drummer Jack LeCompte; while Leib's red-hot playing melted all of the Baby G's 88 by one. Donato's haunting and intoxicating rendition of Duke Ellington and Paul Francis Webster's "I Got it Bad and That Ain't Good" was the perfect nightcap for the seventy minute music spectacular, enhanced with fine lighting and excellent sound by Ricardo Robinson, and preceded by Vitello's usual sumptuous Sicilian fare.

With marquee royalty like Donato and Leib, Sterling's Upstairs solidifies its stake as the number one supper club in Los Angeles dedicated to presenting the best of nightclub and Broadway performers in an intimate concert setting.

* Broadway World is the largest internet site of its kind in the world for all things Broadway and theatre related, entertainment news in general, TV and film, nightclubs, and more.

A Review from......
Gina Zollman
Cabaret Commentary 8/30/05

"Lori and the Boys" at the Cavern Club, 8/21/05

"Lori and the Boys", a spectacular, song-filled comedy cabaret in the time-honored Vaudevillian tradition, has set a new standard for entertainment in LA's cabaret haunts. Lori Donato, that elegant yet game Grand Dame of the piano and nightclub stage, brings us yet another fun-filled romp, starring the long-legged Lady herself and her three supremely talented and diversely engaging "Boys".

I was bowled over by their professionalism, charm, wit and original take on this often over-done and misunderstood art form. I got my $15 dollars worth in the first 15 minutes, with their campy numbers, heartfelt singing, terrific original material, perfectly matched song solos and utterly mesmerizing, well-choreographed ensemble pieces. It was a trip back to the old days, when people really sang for their supper, and totally entertained their audiences. What a concept!

The Cavern Club is the perfect venue for this type of show, intimate, yet unlike a nightclub, the seats are theatre-style, so everyone has a great sightline to the action onstage. Both Lori and her co-star Greg Stanton play piano in addition to singing their hearts out, so that added a nice musical change-up throughout the night. Her other co-starring "Boys", Kurtis Simmons and Eric Seppala, added sex appeal, humor and Broadway caliber vocal chops to Lori and Greg's artful contributions.

This show was electrically-charged, from the custom-made opening number to the equally perfect, hand-crafted finale. I was so thoroughly delighted by the material and the diverse staging, a different configuration for each scene, it seemed, with each performer getting their moment to shine, showcasing specialty material tailored for their personality and vocal strengths. I would have enjoyed even more "Andrew Sisters"-style ensemble/harmony numbers. The "Ratpack" feel to the whole evening, albeit with gay overtones, was a concept so ripe for this day and age, I'm surprised I haven't seen it done before!

Highlights for me were all of Kurtis Simmons' songs, that handsome and sexy male siren extraordinaire, who sang a number of female-identified hits like "Blue Bayou" and "Son of a Preacher Man", putting his indelible, heart-wrenching and even humorous spin on them. I just adored the loony Viking-looking Eric Seppala's funky take on "Twisted" (a total gem), and his show-stopping, wacky novelty piece, "Cave Man", which could be the premise of an entire sitcom, a genre this multi-talented singer/comedian is surely destined for. The running gag of Eric being rather nervous and unclear on his entrances worked like gang-busters for me. The dry, deadpan wit and delivery of the musically hip Greg Stanton (you should have heard him swing the entire neighborhood on "Let the Good Times Roll"), was a clever ballast to the raw energy and cutting-edge improvisational quality of the show. You have to rehearse a lot to get that ease of interplay, folks, and this company had their timing and banter down to a diamond cut.

Lori Donato, the star and primary producer of the show, was purely part of the ensemble on this evening, partaking of the humorous tone and totally supporting her co-stars with her piano stylings (always inventive and never dominating). Her transition to another stage of her life, marked by a recent milestone birthday, was a running theme throughout the show, and her vulnerability and openness throughout her powerfully personal musical set-pieces were her feminine gift to the proceedings. Lori has that unmistakable "star" quality that comes from truly serving decades of audiences, and bringing them what they crave, in a selfless, yet fully formed way. It's as if she can "rule the day" on stage, taking command, but without making you feel she is full of herself. That is an enormous feat, and why she is so beloved, here and abroad.

Greg Stanton is a gifted pianist, always sure and precise, but rollicking and foot-stomping when called for, to be sure. But his outstanding contribution on this night, for me, was his Bob Newhart-style, all-American, sardonic take on the proceedings. It's as if "Everyman" was up there on stage, amidst the mayhem and heightened reality, making some offbeat sense of the whole thing. A great looking, bespectacled, yet profoundly "normal" man, he didn't have to "do" much to reel us into his plain-spoken world. He surprised me musically with his "inner soul man"! He and Lori literally traded places at the piano a few times, never missing a beat, a clever and unusual sidelight to this special night. A nice touch from "Lori and the Boys".

"Lori and the Boys" has "legs" for days, months, even years, with the endless possibilities such a format offers. I can only say, with Lori's impeccable taste, her own gorgeous alto serenading the room in her powerful yet somehow beckoning way, and her exquisite choice of co-stars, she allows you an insight into her rare world of showbiz longevity: give people a hilarious, original, action-packed, fast-paced, high quality, riveting show, more than they ever dreamed of, and they'll keep coming back, again and again and again. I know I will! Catch "Lori and the Boys" at the Cavern Club and other venues around town. You'll be SO glad you did!

A Review from......
Stanley M. Garner
Director, Los Angeles Opera

When Lori Donato casts her musical spell, you are transported to an enchanted musical land... and you just don't want to come back!

Very few people in this world can make music that will stir your soul to laughter, to sadness, to romance, or to pathos. One of those simply superb few is Lori Donato.

What is most remarkable about Lori Donato is her assurance and ability to communicate the essence of a song. The dramatic intelligence that fuels her performances is applied with keen focus. As a pianist and singer Lori Donato is extravagantly gifted. She practices the “art that conceals art”. None of her songs ever rings false or registers as emotionally vague. She is a superb vocal actress. And let's talk about her voice: sweet and subtly tangy as dark honey, perfectly placed, evenly voiced across its registers, bell-like and shimmering in the high notes and warm as a cello in the low. Her music displays not only technical excellence but delightful original interpretation as well.

Lori Donato musically combines velvety warmth and creamy richness with radiance and purity. Her voice seems to flow by magic, each tone perfectly centered, capable of a wide-ranging variety of color and nuance.

Lori Donato is the musical equivalent of an expensive box of scrumptious chocolates and I intend to gorge myself on them whenever I have the chance.

Lori Donato & The Howlett Smith Trio
By Anne O'Neary, Music Connection
Sherman Oaks
The Players: Lori Donato, vocals; Howlett Smith, piano, backup vocals; Christof Luty, bass; Dean Koba, drums.
Material: From the first smoky vibes of Peggy Lee and the moving emotions of "I've Never Been to Me," to Lori Donato's "The Road Ain't No Place for a Lady," this is one class act. Backed by the famous Howlett Smith Trio, Donato presents a crowd-pleasing repertoire of pop, jazz, swing originals and standards. Donato handpicked the songs (all specially arranged for her by Howlett Smith),which are an autobiographical collection inspired by her experiences and the singers who influenced her.
Musicianship: Howlett Smith's musical talent is nothing short of being phenomenal. A working professional since he was 14 years old, he has a recurring role on General Hospital with his trio. From a daily spot on Arthur Godfrey's network radio show as well as the musical director of Me and Bessie, Howlett Smith is the real thing, as are each of his band mates.

Lori Donato is a glamorous song-stress who graces the stage with sophistication, style and class. Starting her career as a theatre teacher, she has performed all over the world and demonstrates a world-class voice and stunning interpretative powers very reminiscent of Judy Garland.

Performance: Donato talked about each song and how and why it inspired her. She also addressed the audience with style and a bit of humor. The Howlett Smith Trio performed perfectly, as they effortlessly displayed years of hard work, practice and love of their craft. The crowd was so pleased it was obvious that these performers have a strong fan base of regular groupies.

Summary: If you're looking for a night on the town with nostalgic, classy and sophisticated, jazz-inspired entertainment, Lori Donato & The Howlett Smith Trio are just the ticket.
--Anne O'Neary

Lori Donato's CD,
"The Road Ain't No Place For a Lady"

By Gina Zollman, Beverly Hills Outlook

Lori Donato's jazzy CD "The Road Ain't No Place For a Lady" is a soulful and honest compilation of standards and unusual tunes, including the original title track. Lori is a seasoned jazz singer, having honed her skills everywhere from local to international clubs, and in the competitive world of cruise ship entertaining. Now a woman of a certain age, her voice is fully realized and able to helm complicated and layered material unsuited for the younger set. Her life experience and musicianship earned through years on the road come through for her on this exemplary collection.

She starts out this CD, which is being featured at Tower Records' listening station in our own West Hollywood and getting nationwide airplay, the seldom heard

Willie Nelson tune, "Night Life." Rangy and full of vocal nuances, it is an apt beginning. Lori's "Don't Go to Strangers" is female crooning at its best, and her sweet vibrato is never too overpowering. With her voice pitched low in her range, she lingers subtly on consonants like Sinatra and other greats have done, and makes her phrasing very personal, drawing you in. Lori's vast repertoire is only touched on in this CD, but it shows off her arsenal of many interesting emotional and musical choices.

A standout on this CD and in a recent live performance I attended is the titular number "The Road Ain't No Place For a Lady." Written my Lori and the fabulous Howlett Smith, and arranged by the talented and ubiquitous Gil Leib (as was the whole album), this original clips along at a swinging tempo, rife with sentiments about life on the road, as only Lori can tell it. Other favorites on his recording are her smoky-voiced and sexy "Broken Down Kitchen Blues," a 12-bar blues shuffle perfect for Lori, with a laundry list of "needs" that is hilarious, and her "Two For the Road." This Henry Mancini movie theme is a personal favorite of mine, and Lori brings you along for the ride, giving an authoritative, well-enunciated and distinctive take on this gem.

Her live performance at Spazio's on February 18 of this year was unfortunately marred by a weak sound system. Still, Lori's subtle command of her craft ruled the day, and she not only had her own crowd near the bar eating out of her hand, but she drew in the rest of the huge roomful of diners who might otherwise have chatted through a more mundane, less engaging performer. There was a lack of ego onstage, and a disarming candor that was never too confessional, just real and concerned with including the entire room in her personal journey. She pulled out a Herculean four sets, and I caught the first two. Her voice was hard to discern, singing very low. Quite frankly, it was muddy due to the sound, but she was so genuine and unaffected, she overcame this setback and kept on like the trouper she is. Her "I Love Being Here With You" was very up tempo and a nice opener for her. She gave tribute to the great dames of jazz, most notably Peggy Lee, and her "Fever" was a terrific match of voice to material, finger-snapping and, unlike the great Peggy, very animated. I noticed that her band's sound was mostly very "thick" and could have laid back more. Wonderful musicians all, I still couldn't hear enough of Lori, the star of the show. Occasionally she takes requests, for example her "I'm a Woman" was a hit, and she sings it as an antidote to that male paean, "My Way." Well done, Lori.

I was most impressed with Lori's take on "At Last," a much-recorded song that didn't make it on the CD. Very well-acted, you can tell she's sung this song before, and she gives it specific, meaningful phrasing as only someone like Lori can. Overall, a very accomplished performer I would go see again and again. Hopefully with better acoustics!

Find Lori's prodigious appearance schedule at, or email for more information. You can get her CDs at shows or at records stores everywhere, and online at Discover for yourself this tremendously gifted jazz performer!

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