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by Joe Regan Jr.

Last year, encouraged by her son and Sydney Myer, Lynne Charnay was scheduled to celebrate her 90th birthday at Don’t Tell Mama on April 1.  Stuck with a bout of laryngitis, Charnay postponed her show to April 30, when so many friends showed up without reservations because they wanted to surprise her that Myer had to put the overflow on stage behind her!  This year, on April 1, a sold out house in the big room at Don’t Tell Mama greeted Ms. Charnay with long applause and several standing ovations!  Ms. Charnay dedicated the show to recently deceased Jan Wallman, who encouraged her to return to cabaret after many years absence.

Ms. Charnay, accompanied by the wonderful composer music director Rolf Barnes, began by singing two amusing birthday songs, “Another Birthday” and Jerry Herman’s “Another Candle on the Cake” which she originally sang in  a revue in Provincetown.

Charnay told us about her second husband, a famous violinist, taking her to Paris the first time, and sang a perfect “April in Paris,“ following that with Mickey Leonard and Russell George’s staple, “Not Exactly Paris” with more emotion and depth than I have ever heard.  When she got to the last word “you,” she held the note long and strong.  It was something that certain advanced aged cabaret stars can’t do anymore.  In many of her selections she held the high notes again and again without faltering or straining!  

Charnay’s next song was very special, “Feuilles Mortes.”  She prefaced with a recitation of what the original French lyrics were which don’t have much relationship to the Johnny Mercer lyrics.  She sang it movingly and knowingly.

She switched to Berlin, Germany and sang the Blitzstein lyrics to the Barbra Song “Sorry”  Born in Russia, there were two Russian songs, both swung in rhythmic joy:  “Dark Eyes” and “Burn On.”

Charnay told us how the talented but very eccentric lyricist Marshall Barer stayed in her apartment in New York and was the houseguest from hell.  The crazy song she sang of his, written with music by Barnes, was his “bird“ song, “Hark to the Sound of the Loon!,“ which had many clever bird sounds and rhymes.

Her philosophy song was “Life Is Just A Bowl of Cherries,” relating when she was in a publisher’s office to promote her friend Richard Bernstein’s songs, a man told her about a new show in London and gave her the music to “As Long As He Needs Me.”  Charnay’s performance was as dramatic as if she were in Oliver and she sang more lyrics than most singers do.  It was one of the magnificent highlights of the act.

She discussed how she knew Fred Ebb and John Kander before they were a team.  She sang “ I Said To Love,“ a song Fred Ebb wrote with Paul Klein and put it together with the wonderful “Summer Is Over” (from A Family Affair) which Kander wrote with William Goldman and James Goldman and in which Charnay played a lead.  Another Marc Blitzstein song was the crazy “Fraught” from No For An Answer.  

A beautiful love duet that Barnes wrote was entitled “I Fell In Love With You In Paris.”  Frank Basile, Celeste Holm’s widower, came on stage and they sang the tender love song together.  

Charnay went into Herman’s Grand Tour as a replacement and sang Joel Grey’s special song from that show “I’ll Be Here Tomorrow.”  Then she took Herman’s “The Best of Times” and turned it into an audience sing-along.  

Her encore was a wonderful “For All We Know” and the full house stood up.  She told us her mantra was “Gratitude/Attitude.“  One of the many bouquets she received was from Russian director Lev Shekhtman who directed her in Gogol’s Marriage.  

I don’t know when Lynne Charnay is going to appear next.  Myer has already booked her for April 1, 1917 for her 92 birthday but this show should be repeated again sooner than that.  It’s one of my top shows for 2016 and was a master class in construction and presentation.  She rarely referred to her lyric sheets and the connective patter was perfect.