Here’s something you probably didn’t know about Molly Ringwald: When she was young, she holed up in her room at night listening to Louis Prima and Keely Smith’s live album from their classic Las Vegas show.
The 45-year-old actress, who is also the daughter of blind jazz pianist Bob Ringwald, would sing along. “I desperately wanted to see that show, but it was before my time,” she says. “I used to try to memorize his scat singing. My girlfriends and I would have slumber parties where we were trying to figure out what [Prima] was doing.” Now the star of iconic ’80s films The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink gets to play the role of Vegas performer as she brings her jazz band to The Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz theater.
Ringwald released her first album, I Wanna be Loved by You, Molly Sings, at 6 years old and performed with her father’s Futon Street Jazz Band as a child. She didn’t start a band of her own until meeting fellow actor and musician Peter Smith, while performing off-Broadway in 2005. “I was looking for someone to collaborate with, and I thought that person was just going to magically reveal themselves to me, so we started working together,” she says.
Smith came to Los Angeles and found musicians he felt would work best with the song selections they were compiling. Ringwald followed, and the songs led to the recording of a self-produced album in 2010, Except Sometimes, that was eventually bought and released this year by Concord Records. (A mother of twins, Ringwald delayed the release of the album to allow time to raise them.)
Acting and singing rely on performing the written word, a point not lost on Ringwald. “Getting into a song lyric is a lot like getting into character,” she says. “It was nice to be able to choose all the song selections on the album and make them personal ones that have some relevance to me in my life.” For example, ”Exactly Like You” is a song she would sing to her son while putting him to bed (he returns the favor on the album with a credited “giggle” on the track). “Sooner or Later,” a Stephen Sondheim tune from the film Dick Tracy, represents the time Warren Beatty was casting for the role of Breathless Mahoney and was interested in her (Madonna got the part).
Ringwald’s choices don’t comprise a familiar list. “People who know the Great American Songbook probably know all of the songs,” she says. “Anytime anybody does a standards album, you can always count on ‘Embraceable You’ or ‘My Funny Valentine’ being in there. I wanted to do some of the songs that were less well-known.”
Interacting with her bandmates—Trevor Ware on bass, Clayton Cameron on drums and Allen Mezquida on saxophone—again parallels acting. “The best actors are really good at supporting other actors,” she says. “The same is with jazz musicians. You need to be so tuned in to what everyone else is doing, who’s doing what and trading off so everyone sounds good.”
Her jazz version of Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” from The Breakfast Club stands out. Asked whether her former director, the late John Hughes, would have made a formidable musical collaborator, Ringwald sees him in a slightly different vein. “John would have made a super A&R guy,” she says. “He loved discovering music, he loved discovering people … he loved the newest thing. He wasn’t really into jazz, but there was a soundtrack for a movie that we were thinking about doing together, but didn’t, where it was a lot of Dave Brubeck.” Between the thought of a Dick Tracy movie with her as the femme fatale, and that of an additional collaboration with Hughes that was not to be, spending a small amount of time with Ringwald yields plenty of surprises and food for thought. One can only imagine what an evening with her and her music holds in store.
Molly Ringwald, Cabaret Jazz theater at The Smith Center, 7 p.m. May 10-11, $35-$45, 749-2000, TheSmithCenter.com.