Singer Pluer shines through

She'll show off her French at Coquette Cafe

Last Updated: July 20, 2001

Musical intimacy and nuance are not the stuff of Milwaukee's annual round of outdoor summer festivals. The competition booming away on the next stage and the let's-party ambience of 21-year-olds drifting by with beer in hand make it hard for any performer trading in anything more sophisticated than high volume and a strong beat.

But Robyn Pluer, facing thumping zydeco to the fore and pumping fusion on the flank at Bastille Days last weekend, made it look easy. On July 14, a large and intensely attentive audience crowded into a cozy courtyard on the Milwaukee School of Engineering campus to hear her sing French songs and jazz standards in translation.

Pluer adores French culture, and her French is gorgeous. Her ongoing Bastille Days relationship began as a continuation of the Edith Piaf shows started by Leslie Fitzwater at the old Skylight Theatre on Jefferson St., in the early years of the annual Cathedral Square festival.

Pluer gave a nod to Piaf in her song selection, but her show was not a Piaf impersonation. Pluer is not tragic, vulnerable and fiery in the Piaf way, but joyful. Last weekend, her joy was contagious and irresistible.

Even at the end of the last set on the second night of the run, Pluer's voice sounded full and potent throughout her considerable range.

She reveled in that voice, savoring its sensuality in a slithery, smoky, surprising take on "Habanera" from Bizet's "Carmen" and its bright agility in a Cole Porter medley. This was playful, flirtatious music-making laced with delicious details - tugs at the tempo, subtle colorations of vowels and articulations of consonants, ornamental melodic flourishes, and stylish bending of phrase and pitch. The detail drew in the ear and the virtuosic fun dazzled it. Clever arrangements and the alert, inventive playing of keyboardist Connie Grauer and percussionist Kim Zick did not merely accompany Pluer, but interacted with her.

Music is the heart of Pluer's appeal, but not the whole story. She's a winning presence, a total package. She moves to the music with a giddy, girlish, disarming nonchalance. She has the kind of beauty that jumps over footlights. And she's a genius at dressing for the music and the situation. When I saw her, she changed from a full, vintage-looking evening gown to a slim, simple ensemble of black capri pants, a black, off-the-shoulder jersey and a hat that put a wafting spray of black lace around her head. She hit just the right line between smart flamboyance and classy femininity. The look says brains, beauty and talent cohabit here, and the look does not deceive.

Such a woman commands attention and makes the distractions of a street festival fade away. It was sweet to be there with her, drinking decent French wine under the stars on a balmy night.

Still, I can't wait to hear her under ideal conditions, with no background noise louder than the clink of wine glasses. She's playing the Coquette Cafe in the Third Ward on July 28; the first set begins at 9 p.m. Good French food and Robyn Pluer; Milwaukee doesn't get more sophisticated than that.

Call (414) 291-2655 for reservations.

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on July 22,2001.

Original Article