By Marilyn Lester
Each May the Mabel Mercer Foundation (MMF) salutes the work of a great American songbook composer at a fête in NYC’s Weill Recital Hall. It’s always a happy, festive affair, as a bevy of cabaret artists take the stage to interpret the work of the honoree. This year’s tribute to Jerome Kern was no less a celebratory success. An excellent cast highlighted the work of the man most noted for the classic musical, Showboat, but who also wrote many of the great standards we know and prize. As always, MMF Artistic Director and cabaret doyenne, KT Sullivan, hosted with gracious aplomb, herself offering the comically infused “Just Let Me Look at You” and “Bungalow in Quogue” as well as a heartfelt “The Last Time I Saw Paris.”
A delightful irony of All the Things You Are was the thread of jazz that ran through the show. Kern, born in 1885 and classically trained, did not like jazz. His work evolved from roots in European musical traditions –– a far cry from ragtime and early blues. This aspect of his catalog was evident in Renee Katz’s delightful, softly operatic delivery of “Don’t Ever Leave Me” (with John M. Cook at the piano). Yet, Kern and the tradition he sprang from had a profound influence on the development of American musical theater. And, as with any good, solid body of work, Kern’s stands the test of time; modern and innovative arrangements bring his music well into the 21st century, plainly evident in All The Things You Are.
Thus, it was a delight to hear Joanne Tatham perform a lively “The Song Is You,” with house musicians Jon Weber (Musical Director/pianist) and Steve Doyle (bassist) in high jazz mode. The harmony group, Those Girls (Eve Eaton, Rachel Hanser, Karen Mack, Wendy Russell, with Steven Ray Watkins at the piano) performed a swinging “Kernucopia” medley. Accompanying himself on piano, with Steve Doyle’s bass, jazzman Alex Leonard swung “Nobody else But Me.” Pianist-singer supreme Alexis Cole, with Doyle, offered a hauntingly swinging and beautifully phrased “Yesterdays.” Soprano saxophone master and singer Danny Bacher aced “I’m Old Fashioned,” including some prime shtick with Jon Weber. For the finale, Cole and Bacher joined formidable forces for a scat laden, gloriously arranged “All The Things You Are.”
In a class by herself, master singer and storyteller Natalie Douglas delivered a completely authentic “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” and put her stamp firmly on “Old Man River,” proving that this traditionally male-voiced classic can be sung by a woman with equal gravitas and meaning.
Youth was represented by two winners of the MMF Adela and Larry Elow High School Vocal Competition. Christina Jimenez (2018), completing her freshman year in college, sang a perky “Life Upon the Wicked Stage.” This year’s winner, 15-year old, Anais Reno, with a superb honey voice well beyond her years, performed a jazz version of “Look For The Silver Lining,” which featured a swinging piano solo by Weber. Emulating the style of swing-era radio, Jeff Macauley offered “You’re Devastating,” while Eugene Ebner sang “You Are Love”/”Make Believe.” Comedy was at the forefront in Lauren Standford’s ”My Husband’s First Wife” and was part of Leanne Borghesi’s powerful red hot mama medley, “Left All Alone Again Blues”/”Raggedy Ann”/”Who.” In the “who knew?” department, Jon Weber revealed himself to have a delightful and pleasant singing voice on “Pick Yourself Up” in a duet with Raissa Katona Bennett.
Also contributing many swell things to All the Things You Are were David LaMarr (“All In Fun”/”Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”), Tim Connell (“Just the Way You Look Tonight”), Stearns Matthews (“The Folks Who Live On The Hill,” accompanying himself at the piano), Minda Larsen (“Bill”) and Roger Schmelzer (”I Won’t Dance”).
Photos: Maryann Lopinto
All the Things You Are –– The Music of Jerome Kern played at Weill Recital Hall, 154 West 57th Street, New York City, on May 21, 2019