Article by Matt Smith
Broadway impresario Jamie deRoy once again assembled another razzle-dazzle troupe of titular friends for yearly Birdland Jazz celebration of Broadway and beyond – all to benefit our beloved Actor’s Fund. Blending jazz standards with musical theatre favorites, and a dash of standup comedy, the unique and eclectic performance – presented as part of Jim Caruso’s feted Broadway at Birdland series – resulted in an evening that was, as the equally star-studded audience would agree, so much more than just “another openin’ of another show.”
Among the highlights on the bill for this go-around? Comedian Christina Bianco reprised her signature “Short People” – before, naturally, launching into her host of impressionable impressions, which included Barbra Streisand, Bernadette Peters, Julie Andrews and Liza Minnelli to name a few – while E. Clayton Cornelius, a former Lola on the Kinky Boots tour, lent his velvet voice to that show’s “Not My Father’s Son,” which he dedicated to his late dad, reiterating how he hoped he made him proud. Additionally, Chicago’s current Mama Morton Hailey Swindal was on hand to offer up “a little motto” courtesy of her persuasive Broadway alter ego.
Rounding out the festivities were lauded jazz duo John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey, whose moving mash-up of Sondheim selections particularly resonated in light of the current climate, and comedian Mike Birbiglia, who unleashed his best bits of raunchy, bawdy commentary as only he can.
Even deRoy herself got in on the fun, delighting with her own set of guffaw-inducing songs and anecdotes from her early days in the business, spent finding her footing, (unknowingly) hobnobbing with legendary celebrities and carving her niche in the cabaret world.
And looking back, it’s a good thing she did. Because of her dedication to the form, her love of all things live entertainment, her championing of equal opportunities for everyone, and, of course, her unwavering promotional awareness for one of the community’s worthiest causes, she’s paved the way — and changed the game — for women, comedians, live theatre performers and, as this evening especially exemplifies, cabaret artists, revitalizing and reinvigorating the genre to ensure it stays just as relevant now as it was when she got her start.
And, as a result, every year, since the inception of Jamie deRoy and Friends as a live stage show in 2001 (which had previously enjoyed a lively, lengthy run on television) has been, as she sings, a very good year – a massive good year – indeed.
Photos by Stephen Sorokoff
Jamie deRoy and Friends’ annual Actor’s Fund Benefit Concert was presented at Birdland Jazz Club (315 W. 44th Street) on April 15th. For more information, visit www.jamiederoy.com or www.birdlandjazz.com.