Cabaret Review Alix Cohen


Michael Goetz, Celia Berk (photo: Richard Nesbit)

Michael Goetz, Celia Berk
(photo: Richard Nesbit)

Celia Berk is a fledgling cabaret singer, yet her debut show is as accomplished as any I’ve seen by veterans. Fortuitously hooking up with proven talents Alex Rybeck and Jeff Harnar explains evocative, personalized arrangements and the best intimate cabaret direction I’ve seen in some time: minimal gestures rising out of lyric and one on one communication with her audience. It partially demonstrates the reason for an eclectic selection of material the vocalist rightly defines as hidden treasures. “Alex and I are kind of musical truffle hounds.” And a sequence which is both satisfying and winning. (Too few singers are aware of this important manipulation.)

What her collaborators can’t do is give Berk the infectiously warm stage presence she presents. They can’t imbue her patter with authenticity or her phrasing with intelligence and maturity that shines through whether playful, melancholy, or romantic. They can’t introduce a range which colors ballads, comedy, opera and an anthem with seemingly effortless octave changes. Nor can they make her meticulously calibrated performance lyrically convincing.

A pretty samba with savored phrasing settles the room. Having secured us, Berk flirts. Her rendition of Lew Spence’s “What’s Your Name?” This is kinda sudden, I agree/ What’s your name/ And will you marry me? is gently swingy yet conversational. The artist fixes on various men during the verse, the rest of us during its chorus. She may have the most expressive eyebrows in the business. It’s adorable. “Lou Spence was a late bloomer, something to which I can relate.”

A second, wry Spence contribution “Such A Wonderful Town” (Mamaroneck?!) is delivered deadpan with spot-on comic timing. Musical Director, Alex Rybeck comes in as a train conductor calling out actual stops on the line. The closer Berk gets, the more humorously anxious she becomes. Tandem ballads follow showcasing signature ombré-gradated, notes. For these songs, she utilizes a lower voice rarely heard in cabaret these days. Consonants are distinct but softened. Control is pristine.

Truly a hidden treasure, Stephen Sondheim’s “Sand,” from an unproduced movie musical, is an insinuating chanteuse number. It’s just ssssand, she sings, opening one palm, brushing it with the other. One can sense the mistral. “Sometimes I’d Dream” (Jeff Klitz/Julie Flanders) is extremely moving. Perhaps it’s personal, perhaps she’s that good an actress. Pained recollection of what’s missing is palpable, but still understated. This is a vocalist who feels no need to prove herself by imposing eleven o’clock number treatment where it doesn’t belong. Lyrical intent dictates.

The centerpiece of the evening, wowing the audience of New York’s Cabaret Convention in October, is a completely unique “Yiddisha Nightingale.” In my review of that concert, I observed “The artist sings with Lower East Side inflection and cinematic phrasing. Her own authoritative alto bookends a parenthesis of Puccini-in Yiddish! with full operatic luster. Vivid and impressive.” A hoot! “This is very early Irving Berlin and very nearly Puccini,” she quips.

Ann Hampton Callaway’s lilting and lovely “You Can’t Rush Spring,” the title song from Berk’s debut CD and “I’ve Been Waiting All My Life” (“That’s not true anymore,” she says brimming with pleasure), summarize the performer’s belief that everything happens in its own time. (Callaway grins from a corner booth.) An ebullient “You’re All the World to Me” (to which Fred Astaire dances on walls and ceiling in Royal Wedding), then becomes heartfelt gratitude for her welcome into a musical world to which she’s long aspired.

Celia Berk is a fine addition to our community. She has grace, imagination, a sense of humor, and talent. Musicianship is splendid. This is a terrific show.


You Can’t Rush Spring– Celia Berk

Alex Rybeck- Musical Direction/Arrangements

Directed by Jeff Harnar

Sean Harkness- Guitar, Michael Goetz-Bass   212 206-0440

One more show: December 6

The Debut CD with many of these songs: CD, iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Pandora