by Lisa Joy Reitman-Dobi
- You’re at a nightclub, snug in the warmth of its familiar ambiance. Onto the stage steps an energetic singer whose sparkle and dynamic range have garnered quite the following. You hear the first few bars of one of your favorite songs. You smile and silently hum along. The audience applauds.
- You’re at a nightclub, snug in the warmth of its familiar ambiance. Onto the stage steps an energetic singer whose sparkle is outdone only by her dynamic presence. You hear the first few bars of one of your favorite songs. You smile and suddenly, your heart begins to sing. Every phrase is infused with a richness born of reminiscence and the slow savor of love recalled. The audience applauds, stands and continues to applaud.
Vive la différence.
A good singer understands the song; a seasoned singer cherishes the story. Arlene Wolff isn’t only seasoned: she’s red hot. This is a chanteuse who knows how to sing the story; she’s lived it.
Fifty years ago, Arlene was a young performer on the cabaret scene. She played New York’s top-tier clubs and toured the continent. Life throws its curveballs. Arlene left entertainment. This imaginative, inquisitive, passionate and compassionate woman could not have predicted that the vibrant life she created offstage would become one of the most enriching factors of her return to cabaret.
Arlene entered a sold out house singing the most apropos number, “Shooting High.” Once on stage, she swung into “Love” (Can Be A Moment’s Madness). From the moment she delivered that song, it was clear that Arlene does far more than bring music to life; she breathes life into every lyric.
Following “Gypsy in My Soul,” Arlene delighted the audience with engaging, unscripted banter. Arlene dishes up colorful, captivating anecdotes plucked from her treasure trove of fascinating experiences. Curiously, she doesn’t seem to realize that her reminiscences are gobbled up like mouthwatering hors d’oevres; everyone looks for more.
As the set progressed so did Arlene’s glowing animation. It’s an extraordinary experience to witness that singular transformation effected by music. With every number, her countenance brightened and the clock rolled back. At one point, she radiated the exoticism of a woman in her prime. At another, she was a playful coquette. Arlene’s “My Man’s An Undertaker” was flush with sass, confidence and wit. Five minutes later, her rendition of “Lies of Handsome Men” gave a sober nod to familiar heartbreak and diehard romantic idealism. Beckoning and beguiling, Arlene invoked the seduction of Weimar Germany, interspersed with jarring reminders of the where we are now. The connection is clear. This is one smart, savvy artist.
Arlene was backed by her Musical Director, Ian Hermann, on piano, and Howie Gordon on drums. Bassist Dave Dunaway could not perform due to an injury. While Dave’s elegant depth was a loss, Ian’s masterful arrangement and ingenuity combined with Howie’s eclectic, intuitive flair with bongos, brushes and hi-hats resulted in an abundantly dimensional and richly textured sound.
Longtime friends from Arlene’s days at City Hall, Mayor David Dinkins and his lovely wife were present. It was easy to see that Mayor Dinkins’ enjoyment went far beyond his fondness for Arlene. I watched him smile, eyes closed, nodding to her music.
Arlene’s performance was, in fact, a love letter and birthday tribute to her husband of 35 years, Manhattan’s former Chief of Police, Mickey Schwartz. Four hundred blue and gold balloons floated against the ceiling of the Metropolitan Room. But nothing could top the touching beauty of Arlene singing to Mickey “More Than You Know.”
Arlene closed the set with “This Will Be My Shining Hour” followed by “When I Grow Too Old To Dream.” It was indeed her shining hour. But she might want to rethink the final number; Arlene Wolff will never grow too old to dream.
Arlene’s show was a spectacular gift for Mickey.
Her return to cabaret is a gift for us all.
Photos: Alan Kaplan