Molly Ringwald is a lot more interesting than you might think. Really.
The star of the John Hughes teen-angst films of the Eighties (“Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Pretty In Pink.”) is today a 45-year-old mother of three whose youthful appearance belies her age by at least a decade.
But that’s not what makes her interesting. Let me make the case. Exhibit 1: On Tuesday it was announced that her debut book, When It Happens To You, published last year, had just been nominated for the Frank O’Conner International Short Story Award, a major literary prize for which she’s competing against the likes of Joyce Carol Oates.
Exhibit 2: Did you know what happened to Ringwald following her movie career in the Eighties? She headed for Paris where she learned to speak fluent French, got married (to a French national), had her first child and picked up a degree. (Translation: She’s smart in case you missed the part about the book.)
Fast forward a couple of decades and, Exhibit 3, Ringwald has resumed her acting career as a regular character on – and how fitting is this? – on “The Secret Life of An American Teenager,” the ABC TV series now in its fifth and final season. (She plays the mother.)
But ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we’re not here to judge her on any of those impressive accomplishments but rather Molly Ringwald, Chanteuse. Borrowing a page from the James Franco book of multi-hyphenate-ism, she has launched a singing career with her first album, “Except Sometimes,” from Concord Records, which was released this week. It’s filled with classics from the great American songbook, and she performed a selection of those on Tuesday night at the intimate Rockwell cabaret in the trendy Los Feliz district of Los Angeles.
Here’s the verdict: The lady can sing.
Even better, she also has a charming stage personality that emanates at every opportunity. She presents herself as Molly Ringwald All of the Above, and pretends to be nothing less or more. It’s refreshingly genuine.
Dressed in a chiffon, one-shoulder-strapped flaming red cocktail dress, complementing her signature red hair, Ringwald provided the audience with a fulsome play list of jazz standards including “Sooner Or Later,” “Exactly Like You,” “I’ll Take Romance” and “On The Street Where You Live” Particularly charming was her rendition of “J’attendrai,” (“I Will Wait”), the classic World War II song sung by Ringwald in perfect-pitch French. She crossed the English Channel for another WW2 classic, “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
Her confident, sultry vocals were bolstered by her impeccable sense of phrasing. Except Sometimes was produced by Peter Smith and features Clayton Cameron on drums, Allen Mezquida on alto saxophone, Peter Smith on piano and Trevor Ware on bass. The entire band was on hand for the cabaret performance and delivered a very tight set.
“Except Sometimes” isn’t the first time Ringwald has let her vocal chords loose on the public. In 2002 she did a turn as Sally Bowles in the Broadway production of “Cabaret” for which she received very good notices. And, truth be told, she didn’t simply wake up one morning in her 30s and discover jazz. Her father Bob Ringwald was a leading jazz pianist and to the delight of the audience, he accompanied her solo on “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
“I grew up listening to the music and my dad talking to me about phrasing,” she says. “It’s something I’m always working on and thinking about. It has a lot to do with connecting with the lyrics.”
Though she’s fond of big bands and may record with one some day, Ringwald deliberately decided to make “Except Sometimes” with her current four-piece band. “I wanted to take a snap shot of this particular time as a group together,” she says. “I wanted this to be small and intimate.” That it is. There’s a snug immediacy and warmth to the tracks, as if Ringwald is singing directly and only to the listener, and the same feeling permeated her cabaret performance.
The one song her father didn’t know on the album? It was the final cut, something called “Don’t You Forget About Me.” “He said, ‘I can’t really figure that one out. I don’t think I’ve heard that one before’,” she says with a laugh. Of course, her 73-year old father was hardly the demographic for the Simple Minds song, which opened and closed the now iconic “The Breakfast Club” and became a monster hit.
How she treated the song during the show speaks volumes about her familiarity with jazz. She took the original bombastic, slightly desperate rock style of the original and slowed it way down. Suddenly, at last, the song made sense.
The song also is a sly nod to her past as a teen queen and a sweet homage to director Hughes, who died in 2009. “He was very much in my thoughts. I wanted to do a tribute to him and that time and connect it all together, but do it in a different way,” she says.
The song neatly ties up her past and her present in a way that honors both and looks ahead to her future: “I believe in evolution,” she says. “This is where I’ve come from and this is where I’ve evolved. I don’t want to be a different person.”
Yes, Ms. Ringwald is all-grown up and pretty in red, and deserving of your listening pleasure. But see for yourself at one of her upcoming tour dates (www.iamMollyRingwald.com):
April 9/10 – Los Angeles, Rockwell
April 12 – Eugene, Oregon, The Shedd
April 13 – Bend, Oregon, Tower Theatre
April 15 – Seattle, Jazz Alley
April 16 – San Francisco, Yoshi’s
April 23 – Minneapolis, Dakota Jazz
April 24 – Phoenix, Musical Instruments Museum
May l/2 – Boca Raton, Florida, JazzIz
May 8/9 – New York City, Iridium
May 10/11- Las Vegas, Smith Center
May 20 – Los Angeles, The Grammy Museum
May 23-27 – Sydney, Australia, Sydney Book Festival plus performances
June 3-10 – Adelaide Cabaret Festival
June 16 – Melbourne, Melbourne Recital Hall
Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.