By Sandi Durell . . .
Do you think you know Cy Coleman? Six decades of songwriting, Broadway and off-Broadway musicals. I’m thoroughly convinced there’s only one performer who has experienced all of Cy Coleman from the very young age of 7, when his mind and spirit opened to the musical sounds of everything from jazz to pop, contemporary to the Great American Songbook. It’s Jeff Harnar!
Jeff began collecting everything Cy Coleman including the life history with which he’s so very familiar. If you want to know the great Cy Coleman’s mind, listen especially to his lyrics and you’ll understand what made him tick.
What makes Jeff Harnar tick is his love for the art of singing, his exceptional vocal prowess, impeccable phrasing, complete understanding of a lyric, the ease with which he delivers a seamless show and . . . his charm! And . . . he’s always dressed to the nines. He’s an ultimate storyteller making it a joy to be in a Harnar audience.
The boyish looking Harnar has been singing since . . . (hmmm, better leave that for you to guess) and his accomplishments would take up too much space here. For a short overview, let’s stick to a handful of his famous fabulous shows (Jeff Harnar Sings Sondheim: I Know Things Now, Jeff Harnar Sings Cole Porter, Jeff Harnar Sings Sammy Cahn, Jeff Harnar Sings the 1959 Broadway Songbook . . .) most of which he’s been conjuring up with good friend, musical director and arranger Alex Rybeck on piano.
Opening with a medley of Coleman classics (“Big Spender” (lyrics Dorothy Fields – Sweet Charity/”Hey, Look Me Over!” (lyrics Carolyn Leigh – Wildcat/”Hey There Good Times”(lyrics Michael Stewart – I Love My Wife), set the tone for an evening of many cherished songs and some not as familiar tunes.
Coleman wrote with a jolting reality that expressed the fun, the sadness, the confusion, the love and loss of what life holds in store. And what a learning experience it was hearing Harnar deliver it all from his heart and soul. “You Fascinate Me So” (lyrics Carolyn Leigh) to the sassy fun of “Everybody Today is Turning On” (lyrics Michael Stewart – I Love My Wife) and “Sexually Free” (lyrics Michael Stewart – I Love My Wife) leading into a terrific and light-hearted “When In Rome” and “The Rules of the Road” (lyrics Carolyn Leigh). Harnar’s acting chops were front and center offering up “Come Summer” (lyrics Carolyn Leigh).
Some of Coleman’s biggest hits like “Witchcraft” (lyrics Carolyn Leigh), proved to be an exciting ballad arrangement with a tinge of eroticism followed by one of Harnar’s favorites “A Doodlin’ Song” (lyrics Carolyn Leigh) – complete silly fun.
But the piece de resistance of the evening was “The Rhythm of Life” (Dorothy Fields – Sweet Charity) that involved lyric rounds sung by Jeff, Alex and bassist Paul Shewchuck, made even more exciting as the various band members added their special treatment.
In between, Jeff had wonderful show biz stories to tell about his first chance meeting with Cy Coleman in 1989 when Jeff and Alex were doing a Tribute to Comden and Green, winding up at a dinner table where Coleman was seated with Lauren Bacall who urged Coleman to try and ‘get the kid on Broadway.’ Another story had to do with Dorothy Fields and Cy Coleman and their differing time schedules (and love of booze) making it difficult to write together until one day they decided to meet at Sardi’s at noon but Fields was nowhere to be found – until later, that is, when it was discovered she was passed out on a back banquet from too much booze. They were quite the pair! But look what they were able to produce in between!
Fields is responsible for the Sweet Charity film version rendition of “My Personal Property” (one of my personal favorites).
Stories prevailed along with the well-known “You’re Nothing Without Me” from City of Angels (lyrics David Zippel, with some Zippel light hearted tweaked parody lyrics) giving Alex and Jeff an opportunity to show off the synergy that makes them a perfect working pair.
A reflective “So Little Time” (lyrics Michael Stewart – Barnum) gave more insight into the core of Coleman.
A grand ending of hope (lyrics Carolyn Leigh), “The Best Is Yet To Come,” and deserved standing ovation was outdone by yet another Fields winner “If They Could See Me Now.”
Yes, Jeff Harnar, we’re seeing you now and looking forward to what you’ll have in store for your fans with another can you top this night as your creativity zooms. With a collective sigh of joy, thanks for a spectacular evening Mr.Harnar!
Tonights’s show A Collective CY at Mizner Cultural Center January 20, 2022 was directed by Sara Louise Lazarus with some of the best musicians Florida has to offer – Paul Shewchuck on bass George Mazzeo on drums and Tom McCormick on sax/flute.
Jeff Harnar is currently on tour in the U.S. and Europe. You can find out more at www.JeffHarnar.com Be sure to see him on January 31, 2022 at 7pm at Birdland Jazz in New York City.
Some New York and Fla. Cabaret singers & musicians in the audience included: Dawn Derow, Danny Bacher, Margo Brown.