NY Cabaret Review by Joe Regan Jr.
Richard Holbrook, who has received acclaim and awards for his Christmas cabaret acts and especially his Burton Lane tribute shows in the past several years, was preparing two years ago for his new show “The Untapped Fred Astaire Revisited,” a new version of his 2001 show. He suddenly cancelled his dates for “personal reasons,” a serious health problem. Now, in 2014 he is presenting “The Untapped Fred Astaire Revisited” at Don’t Tell Mama. There was a sold out house of cabaret celebrities on October 19th.
From the moment he opened his mouth, we realized that his glorious voice had not diminished in any way. The artist that he is, he has always placed great emphasis on the meaning of lyrics, and his first number, “A Shine On Your Shoes,” was animated and energetic and his cabaret act is the comeback of the year! To give credit, Holbrook’s show was presented by Alfred and Melisande D’Alessio and was directed by Richard Barclay, and featured the great Tom Nelson Trio with Nelson on piano, Peter Grant on drums and percussion, and Tom Kirchner on bass.
Holbrook’s patter was minimum, interweaving biographical facts of the history of Astaire and doing several mash-ups of songs that Astaire introduced. The first part discussed his partnership with his sister, the beautiful Adele, who was the glamorous comic part of their act. Early in the show we got “I Wanna Be A Dancing Man,” “He Loves and She Loves” and when he met his first wife, “Dearly Beloved.” The Astaires knew all the great composers and they all wanted Astaire to introduce their songs and he did, creating more American Songbook standards than any other singer (although sometimes the hit versions were by other pop singers).
When Adele married a British Lord, Astaire became a dancer with several different partners. He accepted an RKO contract but his first movie was with Joan Crawford and Holbrook sang that number, “Heigh Ho The Gang’s All Here.” His next movie was “Flying Down To Rio,” and he was partnered with Ginger Rogers and the movie saved RKO Radio from bankruptcy when they introduced “The Carioca.” Holbrook sang that number demonstrating the dance craze it became and the number from the second teaming The Gay Divorcee, “The Continental.”
There were mash-ups of “Isn’t This A Lovely Day,” with “A Foggy Day,” a glorious “Waltz in Swing Time,” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “Never Gonna Dance,” and a full version of the comic “How Could You Believe Me (When I Said I Loved You) .” Holbrook animatedly sang both parts as a male, changing the pronouns in the Jane Powell parts.
Relating it to the death of Astaire’s first wife, Holbrook sang a moving “By Myself.” Astaire didn’t want to do his next movie, “Daddy Long Legs” but he threw himself into work and the number that Johnny Mercer wrote for him became one of his biggest hits, “Something’s Got To Give.” Holbrook gave full value to those tongue twisting lyrics.
Holbrook pulled out a cane and top hat and rollicked to a mash up of “No Strings,” “Puttin’ On My Top Hat,” and “Puttin’ On The Ritz,” receiving a standing ovation.
His encore? Arlen and Mercer’s “Shining Hour.” Holbrook with his lyric sensitivity sang it sincerely and movingly. It was indeed Richard Holbrook’s shining hour.
“Richard Holbrook The Untapped Fred Astaire Revisited” repeats Sunday October 26 at Don’t Tell Mama at 8 PM. Call 212 757-0700 or go to donttellmamanyc.com for reservations.