by Len Lear
Cabaret singing is not exactly the hottest trend in music these days, but there is still an audience, mostly older folks, who like to listen to words they can actually understand with a pretty melody and emotional nuances sung by a crooner (not a screamer) who obviously has done some serious living.
And one of the best is Anne Ellithorpe, who lived in Wyndmoor from 2004 to 2014 but now spends part of her time in Mt. Airy and part of her time in New Hampshire. Anne has a way with a ballad that reminds you of sunny days and starry skies and a simpler time colored by the blush of youth.
Anne, who requested that her age not be mentioned, has performed extensively in the Philadelphia area. She concedes that cabaret, often misunderstood as “bad, off-color comedy or singing,” gets a bad rap. Real cabaret she defines as “a classy, sophisticated evening out for intelligent people who enjoy good music.” Certainly Philadelphia deserves as much, especially since, as Ellithorpe points out, it hosts a large community of cabaret performers who are immensely supportive of one another.
Anne made an excellent CD a few years ago called “Snow on Snow” and is currently working on a CD of Stephen Sondheim’s music. She and her musical director, Rick Jensen, have recently performed a Christmas show, a Valentine’s show and, most recently, a Sondheim Show, plus a couple of house party concerts. She is also involved in the beginnings of a music festival in celebration of the Great American Songbook in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire, “so I am keeping pretty busy!”
As a young person growing up outside Los Angeles, however, Anne had a dream to be a dancer, not a singer. In fact, her transition to a singing career is almost the stuff of a Hollywood movie. A competitive Highland dancer, she started training in classical ballet as a teenager. “I had an intellectual interest in law,” she said. “I lacked the money to pursue law, though, but I was offered scholarships to dance.”
Working freelance, Ellithorpe graced the stages of such venues as Disneyland and the Hollywood Bowl, and she taught dance and did performance coaching. The Boston Repertory Ballet awarded her a work/study scholarship, although she did not perform with the company. “It never really got a season going,” she explained. Then came the Hollywood-like twist that would change Anne’s career path permanently.
She was living in Salem, Massachusetts, when a friend overheard her singing her daughter, Emily, to sleep. About to audition for the well-regarded Paul Madore Chorale, the friend encouraged Ellithorpe to do so as well. “I don’t think I can sing in public,” Ellithorpe said to herself. Having to do so in Salem’s cavernous Old Town Hall only intensified her doubts.
Without hesitation, however, Madore accepted her. “I think you have a real voice,” he encouraged. Highlights of Ellithorpe’s two-year tenure with the chorale include John Rutter’s uplifting “Requiem,” performed just after the death of her grandmother, and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” which she has described as “surfing, a trip with a giant ocean of sound surrounding you.”
When her husband’s work necessitated a move to North Carolina, Ellithorpe sought professional training. In 2003, she began working with a voice coach at Meredith College. She explored different forms of vocal expression such as musical theater and opera, singing with the North Carolina Opera for a season.
What she discovered was that although she appreciated opera, it was not right for her. “Opera does not move me as an art form,” she said. “It is not something I culturally relate to in the same way I relate to American music.”
Ellithorpe gravitated to the cabaret scene instead, attracted by its intimacy and flexibility. “Cabaret is all about intimacy, conversation,” she said. “It’s a circle of communication — between performer, audience and musicians — that takes place every evening. It’s exciting and scary. You’re opening yourself up — you’re being you — not performing a role” as one would in opera or musical theater.
Anne’s creativity has manifested itself in other ways as well. While living in Salem, she worked as a pastry chef at a German bakery. “I still bake,” she said. “I have a plan on the back burner to start a gingerbread business! I would really love to do that. I just haven’t had the time to devote to it!”
Anne’s own favorite singers are Barbara Cook, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli and Mel Torme’. “I would love to meet Barbara Cook,” she said. “I would love to take a master class with her. Actually, I have met her several times, but not to really speak or spend time with.”
For more information or to listen to Anne’s music, visit www.anneellithorpe.com