Alan Jay Lerner’s 100th Birthday Celebration Rocks the 2018 Cabaret Convention Finale
by Myra Chanin
Alan Jay Lerner supplied rhymes for one unfinished and 17 produced Broadway Musicals as well as librettos for several of them. He wrote the words for the music written by the most celebrated Broadway composers, including 8 times with Frederick Loewe, twice with Burton Lane, and once with all of the following: Kurt Weill, Andre Previn, John Barry, Leonard Bernstein and Charles Strouse. He and his most frequent working partner, Frederick Loewe, had a few things in common, including frequently saying, “I do!” Loewe had four wives; Lerner married eight times and admitted in his autobiography that he had no flair either for marriage or bachelorhood. One of his ex-wives reportedly declared that “marriage was Alan’s way of saying Goodbye,” which meant that alimony became his way of saying goodbye to the royalties earned from major hits including My Fair Lady, Gigi, Camelot, Paint Your Wagon and Brigadoon.
Lerner’s last completed effort, written with composer Charles Strouse, titled Dance A Little Closer, became known as Close A Little Faster after it closed on opening night. If you happen to be interested in further immersing yourself in Lerner’s lesser efforts, The York Theater Company’s 2019 Series of Musicals in Mufti will be showcasing concert reading revivals of Lerner’s Carmelina (with a plot that was a precursor of sorts to Mamma Mia and music by Burton Lane) Lolita My Love (with a score by John Barry who wrote the themes for most James Bond films) and the aforementioned Close a Little Faster in which the performers sing their way through a potential nuclear Armageddon.
Lerner’s Cabaret Convention evening was hosted and curated by two exceptional Cabaret performers: the always beaming, trim as a teenager singer/director Jeff Harnar and longtime Cabaret icon Andrea Marcovicci, resplendent in glittering black and silver. Lerner’s lyrics for their duet “You’re All the World to Me,” written with Burton Lane for the MGM film, Royal Wedding, must have been created during one of Lerner’s many pre-proposal moments:
You’re like Paris in April and May.
You’re New York on a silvery day.
A Swiss Alp as the sun grows fainter,
You’re Loch Lomond when autumn is the painter.
The 19 individual performers that followed ran the gamut from the royalty of the Manhattan Cabaret scene to a few comparatively unknown out of town newbies. Their songs included some of many of Lerner’s greatest verses and a few that I felt fell short of greatness and were, at best, also rans. Two coveted awards were presented: The Donald F. Smith Award to Shana Farr and The Julie Wilson Award to Joshua Lance Dixon.
The dynamic, bold and forceful Stearns Matthews opened the evening with the liltingly romantic, “On a Clear Day,” from the musical of the same name often revived for its superb score despite its mishmashy libretto. In addition to being tall and handsome in a perfectly fitting grey sharkskin suit, Matthews’ utterly compelling, charismatic bearing and perfectly clear singing, demonstrated such star quality that it made me and everyone else in the hall wonder why he wasn’t being besieged by major Broadway producers for Hugh Jackman type roles.
Steve Ross, the Crown Prince of NY cabaret, accompanied himself and sang Brigadoon’s “The Heather on the Hill,” so sweetly that he once again proved himself worthy of his title. In his duet, “Show Me,” with the tall and elegant Shana Farr, she proved herself worthy of the 2018 Donald Smith Award she received.
Chicago’s Tammy McCann’s jazzy approach to “Almost Like Being in Love,” was followed by Richard Holbrook talking about the circumstances and the speed with which “How Could You Believe Me … when I said I loved you when you know I’ve been a liar all my life…” was written. These rhymes may have been inspired by the signing of a separation agreement, but regardless Honest Richard Holbrook gave them a hilarious Jimmy Durante effect.
The singers that impressed me and the audience most were those who made their songs personal by their introductory comments: like the always informative Richard Holbrook. Barbara Brussell visiting from California infused “If Ever I Would Leave You” with her great joy about being among old friends in New York City. But everyone who sang was excellent: Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano, Gabrielle StravelIi, Iris Williams, San Francisco’s Leanne Borghesi, Joshua Lance Dixon, Sally Mayes, Anita Gillette, Penny Fuller and Karen Akers.
And that leaves the incomparable Mark Nadler, who not only played and sang one of the few completed songs from the incomplete My Man Godfrey, about how garbage ain’t what it used to be but tap danced brilliantly about it as well!
The cabaret killer, as always, was Sidney Myer, who spoke about how the song he was about to sing, “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Any More,” was “suggested” to him by Jeff Harnar and how he felt about that suggestion by adding, “This one’s for you, Jeff.” And then with his usual artistic comic delivery, he stole the show and received his usual roar and sitting ovation. What makes Sidney so wonderful. He’s an original. And he concentrated totally on transmitting Lerner’s thoughts to the audience. And as always, succeeded.
Marta Sanders, a consummate New York cabaret artist since the ’70s, whose artistry has grown so thrillingly that her performances are viewed as master classes in the art of song interpretation, concluded the evening and the 2018 Convention with a well-deserved standing ovation for “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” and proved she still has everything and more.
The evening’s band members were Alex Rybeck on piano, Jered Egan on bass and Dan Gross on drums
Photos: Maryann Lopinto