Review Joe Regan Jr.
Celia Berk, fresh from her recent triumphs at the Mabel Mercer Cabaret Convention, where she was on the program celebrating World War II music and was surprised to suddenly receive the Margaret Whiting Award for excellence (including a cash prize) from Whiting’s daughter, returned to the Metropolitan Room November 8th to a sold out house of cabaret stars and composers.
Berk’s opening number was “I’ve Been Waiting For You All My Life,” a forgotten number from Ballroom which was sung by a vocalist with the band as the lead characters danced in the foreground. Strongly supported by music director Alex Rebeck on piano and his trio with the great Jared Egan on bass and Sean Harkness on guitar, the composer Billy Goldenberg confessed to Berk that that was his favorite song from the show.
Berk confessed she loves to find great songs that people have either forgotten or don’t know. Her next number, not on the “You Can’t Rush Spring” CD, was Lew Spence’s rarely sung “What’s Your Name? Will You Marry Me,” targeting males in the audience as she effortlessly moved across the Metropolitan Room’s stage and toyed with her musicians. Another Spence rarity was the crazy Queens song, “Mamaroneck” with lyrics by Tex Arno. There was a smile of pleasure on Harkness’ face when she gave him the song and he confessed that it reminded him of a certain girl in his past!
Berk related that her last year has been the fulfillment of her wildest dreams, and her match up of “Penthouse Serenade” with “Stairway To The Stars” was stunning in its lyric interpretation, soaring with high notes and wonderful muted emotion.
There was a wonderful Irving Berlin rarity, “My Yiddish Nightingale,” including the Yiddish lyric version of the Puccini aria from “La Boheme,” that the crowd loved! And a crazy “Broken Record” song that keeps repeating the lyric “I love you” again and again.
Berk did choose to sing one of her favorite not forgotten songs, a tender and sensuous “Folks Who Live On The Hill,” while standing in the crook of the piano. She belted out “What About Today” in a wildly paced version with stronger high notes than Streisand possesses.
Of course, she sang the wonderful Ann Hampton Calloway “You Can’t Rush Spring,” the title of her CD, before giving us a special treat.
There was a preview of the new CD she is preparing with a wonderful Cy Coleman/David Zippel song entitled “Broadway” from Pamela’s First Musical which she sang to a music track. The trio on the record were her live backup – cabaret stars Kristoffer Lowe, Jeff Harnar, and Joshua Dixon. The song is full of humorous references to Broadway hits. The four of them singing together was a special highlight.
Her encore was the wonderful “You’re All The World To Me,” the Lerner-Lane song Fred Astaire sang upside down! She sang this song embracing all of the audience.
Celia Berk is one of the strongest cabaret performers today and this is certainly one of the top acts of 2015. You can find out more about her at her website www.gramercynightingale.com. Her CD is available on CD Baby.
She will return to the Metropolitan Room in the spring in a special show featuring the new CD.