by: Sandi Durell
There will never be another you . . . Julie Wilson! And so the celebrations continue again/still at 54 Below where, on May 9th, many of cabaret’s best sang their hearts out for the lady known as the Queen of Cabaret . . . the lady who was front and center at just about everyone’s show, exuding warmth, love and advice – even by phone on a stormy winter’s night to Mark Nadler when she called to make sure he was safe and sound indoors. Mark opened the evening with “I Only Want to Laugh” (from Jimmy), followed by Barry Levitt (who met Julie in 1974) with a jazzy rendition of ‘Pennies From Heaven.” Looks like the pianist-singers were front and center to start things off, as the Prince of Cabaret – Steve Ross – followed suit in his usual elegant style with “Cheek to Cheek/Let’s Face the Music and Dance” with reminiscences about meeting Julie in 1973; Julie eventually telling Steve that one day she’d write a biography entitled “Kitchens I Have Dressed In!”
Delicious soprano Anna Bergman was on hand with a sincere “Home” (M.Yeston) while Jeanne MacDonald illuminated with a moving “You’re Aging Well” (D. Williams). An interesting combination was rendered by Jeff Macauley with “Most Genetlemen Don’t Like Love/It Never Was You,” followed by “Don’t Cry Out Loud” sung by Deborah Silver. Crooner Nicolas King touched hearts with Noel Coward’s “You Were There.” Natalie Douglas was a showstopper with “People” (Styne/Merrill).
When Marcus Simeone asked Julie about singing this song, she said to keep it in his repertoire – dark though it may be, he sang a powerful “Strange Fruit,” followed by Lauren Fox with “Stay Well” (Kurt Weill). The always charming Jeff Harnar was just “Too Marvelous for Words” (Whiting/Mercer).
The perfect celebration was Billy Roy’s arrangement of “Sweet and Lowdown/Lady Be Good” (Gershwins) sung by Holt McCallany (Ms.Julie’s loving, good looking son) in duets with the gal who spent the last two years of her life at the side of Julie Wilson, the adorable Debbie Damp (accompanied by Christopher Denny). And what a singer Ms. Damp turns out to be! Holt performed a solo touching “You Don’t Know Paree” – in remembrance of a recent birthday celebration trip with Julie and Debbie to Paris.
Seated in the audience in her memorable chapeau, was Baby Jane Dexter who sang (from her seat) “For All We Know” segueing into a moving tribute of “Hang On.”
The always adorably witty Sidney Myer unearthed “I’m In Training for You” – a double entendre that had the audience in stitches. Classy Karen Oberlin offered up “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” followed by Kevin Dozier’s blended “Always” and “Time Heals Everything.” Smooth, sexy Stacy Sullivan nailed “That Old Black Magic” paired with “Lover” in a notable arrangement with Tracy Stark on piano (Tracy providing the accompaniment for most of the performers). Jennifer Sheehan, prior to her 9:30 pm showtime (Stardust: A Night in the Cosmos), joined the fray with “Our Love Is Here To Stay.”
Everyone’s favorite showman, consummate entertainer Lee Roy Reams, filled the room with his energetic rendition of “From This Moment On” and Broadway’s Amy Spanger belted out “Always True To You” (Porter). The always amazing Anita Gillette sang a heart-filled “Did I Ever Live/I Still Believe in Love” (Hamlisch/Sager) as the evening gave itself over to the young red hot mama of cabaret Carole J. Bufford in “I’m a Bad Bad Woman” (Leigh/Addinsell).
Throughout, photos and video of Julie and many of the performers were flashed on screens framing the stage heightening the sweet memories. John McDaniel offered up a video message and footage of a very youthful, beautiful Julie Wilson performing “Queen of New Orleans”(with Ray Anthony leading the band) brought back great nostalgic moments.
Special thanks to T. Oliver Reid for putting this exceptional evening together that airs again on Thursday, May 14th with some new cast members. www.54Below.com
*Photos/Video: Sandi Durell