By Brian Scott Lipton
What do you need for a good party? An entertaining, affable host, dynamite guests, and a welcoming environment. And no one knows that better than cabaret legend Jamie deRoy, who provided all of the following at the latest edition of “Jamie deRoy & Friends,” which was presented at Birdland as a benefit for The Actors’ Fund on Sunday night. To paraphrase her opening number, there was definitely a party going on (especially with the likes of such top-notch performers as Michele Lee and Julie Budd in the audience), and if you’re smart, you’ll accept her invitation to the next one.
As she always does so smartly, deRoy mixes comedy and music, both on the bill and in her own numbers. (I particularly loved the “Upper West Side Story/Gentiles on My Mind” (written by Stephen Sondheim/Leonard Bernstein (John Hartford – Gentle on My Mind) parody lyrics: Jan Schor & Jamie deRoy, and always chuckle through David Buskin’s oh-so-true “Jews Don’t Camp”). The big laughs on Sunday were provided by Steven Scott, who made his strongest mark with his deft political commentary about the Presidential election, and the peerless Julie Halston, who popped in for a too-brief spell, yet had us in stitches reading the same dire passages from “The New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism” that she was urged to study at age seven. (What “did” she “do” to deserve that?)
Musically, the evening was wonderfully diverse. Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Julie Gold wowed the crowd with her much-beloved anti-war anthem “From a Distance” and had us all nodding our heads in agreement through “Discontinued,” a bittersweet ode to the ever-changing landscape (both physical and societal). Brandon Victor Dixon, currently starring in “Hamilton,” brought his beautifully trained voice and interpretive skills to Andrew Lippa’s “I’m Here for You” and Lynn Ahrens’ and Stephen Flaherty’s stunning (and sadly appropriate) “Make Them Hear You.” And Billy Stritch (who was recently signed to accompany Tony Bennett on the road) showed off his sublime piano technique while crooning the standard “Comes Love.”
Stritch also had the honor and pleasure of accompanying the show’s most extraordinary singer: the ageless and ever-amazing Marilyn Maye, who earned a well-deserved standing ovation after a gorgeous pairing of “Lazy Aftenoon” and “Bye, Bye, Country Boy,” followed immediately by a snappy, jazzy medley of Fats Waller’s greatest songs, including “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Honeysuckle Rose.” (Maye said the selections were requested by the evening’s director, Barry Kleinbort, who made sure the 90 minutes flew by in a flash.)
Not to contradict Mr. Waller and Andy Razaf, but if Marilyn Maye is performing or Jamie deRoy is hosting, go out and have a good time — no matter what time is it, who you love or where they are. They’ll forgive you!
Jamie deRoy & Friends was presented at Birdland (315 West 44th Street. 212-581-3030) on Sunday, October 16 at 6pm.
Photos: Maryann Lopinto