Eighties icon Molly Ringwald returns to musical roots

Singer performs jazz standards and more at Buckman

Film star turned torch singer Molly Ringwald performs Thursday at the Buckman Performing & Fine Arts Center.

Photo by Hussein Katz

Film star turned torch singer Molly Ringwald performs Thursday at the Buckman Performing & Fine Arts Center.

Perhaps more than any other actress of her generation, Molly Ringwald’s name evokes music as much as her performances.

In particular, the three movies she made in the ’80s with director John Hughes produced memorable music moments that make up a virtual soundtrack for a generation: The Thompson Twins’ “If You Were Here” accompanying her first kiss over a birthday cake in “Sixteen Candles.” Simple Minds’ bookending anthem “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” in “The Breakfast Club.” The climactic lovers’ reunion to Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s “If You Leave” in “Pretty In Pink.”

But few of her fans realized just how important music was to Ringwald herself before the 45-year-old released her debut album of jazz standards last spring. Except Sometimes, out on Concord Records, finds Ringwald following the example of childhood musical heroes like Ella Fitzgerald and Blossom Dearie on an album of mostly standards, including such lesser-known gems as Stephen Sondheim’s “Sooner or Later,” Lionel Bart’s “Where Is Love?” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes),” which gives the collection its title.

Ringwald’s seeming turn toward music is actually a return. “Music is actually the thing I did before I did anything else,” Ringwald says. “It was the thing I thought I was going to grow up and do, and then the acting thing took over.”

Ringwald and her quartet perform Thursday night at the Buckman Performing & Fine Arts Center.

Music, and jazz especially, are in Ringwald’s blood. Her father is jazz pianist Bob Ringwald, and when Molly made her recording debut when she was just 6 with his Fulton Street Jazz Band on a version of “I Wanna Be Loved by You,” a song first made famous by Helen Kane, the model for cartoon character Betty Boop and later Marilyn Monroe.

A few years later, Ringwald appeared in a West Coast production of the musical “Annie” and the next year was cast in the first season of the sitcom “The Facts of Life,” where her vocal chops were given showcase. After being part of a cast purge in the second season, she recorded a pair of children’s albums for Disney.

As she entered her teens, acting became Ringwald’s main focus. After her enormously successful run in the Hughes films, she continued to work steadily into adulthood, appearing in films such as “For Keeps” and “Teaching Mrs. Tingle” as well as the ’90s TV adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Stand.”

In the 2000s, Ringwald began to make her way back to music by appearing in Broadway shows, including “Cabaret,” “Enchanted April” and “Sweet Charity.”

“It was something I had really wanted to do for a while, but I hadn’t found the opportunity or the right collaborator,” says Ringwald of meeting musician/actor Peter Smith when they both appeared in the off-Broadway play “Modern Orthodox,” a nonmusical. “We got half way through the run before we found we had this thing in common. It’s kind of rare because there’s not that many people our age who know that much about jazz.”

As they assembled Except Sometimes, Ringwald and Smith stayed true to their vision of performing more obscure standards in a small combo setting, but on the album’s last track, Ringwald did include a treat for her fans, a jazz rendition of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” as a tribute to her friend and mentor Hughes, who died in 2009 just as the project was getting started.

“When we recorded the album, it was not long after John passed away, and he was in my thoughts a lot,” says Ringwald. “I wanted to do a tribute to him, and I really love covers that are done in a way that’s completely different. I just wanted to see if it could work as a jazz ballad, and it did. So I thought it would be nice to include in the album as a tribute to him and also for the people who followed my career.”

Ringwald says she performs the song in almost every performance, and when she does, “everybody gets really happy,” but you shouldn’t expect a John Hughes covers album anytime soon. Instead, the mother of three is busy balancing her multifaceted career. She recently wrapped up five seasons on the ABC Family drama “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” and is shooting a new pilot. As a writer, Ringwald has penned two books and is at work on her second novel. And she has high hopes for her long-delayed musical career, including some dates coming up that will find her fronting a big band.

“We’re talking about making another album,” says Ringwald. “We have more than enough material for a new album. I just want to make sure I leave time to do everything else that I want to do.”

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Molly Ringwald

7 p.m. Thursday at the Buckman Performing & Fine Arts Center, 60 Perkins Ext. at St. Mary’s Episcopal School.

Tickets: $35, available at the box office, by phone at 901-537-1483 and online at buckmanartscenter.com.

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