LOS ANGELES — One can hardly expect twentysomethings these days to be well-versed in pre-Eighties music, let alone Rogers and Hart tunes of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, but actresses Zooey Deschanel, 23, and Samantha Shelton, 24, were practically raised on vintage songs. So it’s no surprise that when they met at a Hollywood party two years ago, they got up and belted one out. After that, recalls Deschanel, someone asked, “So where is your next show?” and Pretty Babies was born. “We saw the dollar signs,” jokes Shelton.
Actually, it took another year for the pair to find an eight-piece band and enough time between acting projects to put together a 30-song set, but once they did, Pretty Babies developed somewhat of an underground following, crooning tunes like “La Vie en Rose,” “I Wanna Be Loved by You” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.”
“I pulled out all my parents’ records in eighth grade when I realized they were cool,” says Deschanel, who started acting in musicals. “They had an Andrews Sisters record and I started listening.” Adds Shelton, whose mother and sister are both singers, “Our harmonies have actually been compared to the Andrews Sisters. We’re an ideal pair of pars.”
After playing a handful of gigs at small Hollywood and Los Feliz bars, they staged their first big show Friday night at the historic Henry Fonda Music Box Theatre, drawing fans Christina Applegate, Gretchen Mol, Sarah Wynter, Carla Gugino and Orlando Bloom. “We’re not exactly your normal bar act, so we need a certain type of venue, and the Henry Fonda was once a Vaudeville house in the Twenties,” says Shelton, whose older sister, actress Marley, stepped in to produce the three-act show, even adding bloomer-clad cigarette girls and tap dancers to the mix. “There’s just not enough Vaudeville out there,” cries Deschanel.
Of course, the clothes are no small part of the show. “We take old music and we treat it like present-day popular songs, but we are real stalwarts about being true to the old times with our fashions and makeup,” says Shelton. “I don’t want it retro, I want it actually old,” adds Deschanel.
The duo had always worn their own vintage dresses and T-strap shoes to perform (Deschanel collects vintage frocks and bags), but for the show on Friday, they enlisted the help of Marley’s stylist, Jessica Paster, who found vintage fringed flapper dresses for the first act, contemporary Thirties-style gowns by Christian Dior and Carlson for the second, and stitched up some polkadot Forties-style halter dresses for the finale.
Although Deschanel just started filming the indie “Eulogy,” she hopes Pretty Babies will play once a month — that is, if the group’s day jobs allow it. “Our piano player is an actor, our bass player is an algebra teacher, our guitar player is a writer, our accordion player teaches martial arts,” she says. “And our sax player is a yoga instructor.”